Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: The Berghoff Café Cookbook

The Berghoff Café Cookbook: Berghoff Family Recipes for Simple, Satisfying Food. Carlyn Berghoff with Nancy Ross Ryan. Andrews McMeel Publishing, $24.99 (156p) ISBN-13: 978-0-7407-8514-6

Family food history. A slice of Americana. Useful cooking tips. The Berghoff Café Cookbook has it all -- and more. Chef, owner, and author Carlyn Berghoff had me at 'Deviled Eggs with Three Fillings' (page 3). The three fillings: Caper Deviled Eggs, Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs, and Horseradish Deviled Eggs. These are deviled eggs redux.

This cookbook is full of recipes for things we all know well; food we have eaten with our families as children and as adults. Dishes that bring comfort and are 'simple and satisfying' like the cover promises. Ms. Berghoff starts off telling the reader how her great-grandfather came over from Germany in the late 1800s eventually opening the Berghoff Café in Chicago in 1898; and how it ended up in her hands several decades later. As she wends her way through the family history she throws in interesting historical tid bits about food, eating and dining from the early days. Like the story of a 'shot and a wash,' a riff on a boilermaker. A stein of favorite Berghoff beer with a shot of their seven-year old Berghoff bourbon thrown in. It started in previous centuries when water was impure giving whiskey a bad taste. The solution? Drop a shot glass of whiskey into a mug of beer; when drinking it the drinker caught the shot glass with their teeth, the beer masking the taste of the whiskey. The drink is still on the menu albeit updated.

When I first picked up the book I was a little unsure; I guess I am more of a food snob than I want to admit. The design, and the food and recipes inside are more traditional, more down home than where my tastes usually run in cookbooks. I've recently seen too many flashy books by well-known chefs. However, after reading through it, and trying several recipes -- the Potato Soup being a favorite -- I changed my tune. This books embodies the Midwestern lifestyle. It evokes what a downtown, local Chicago restaurant can be. It is warm and homey. Ms. Carlyn's maxim of 'reuse, recycle and reinvent' that she applies in the restaurant works perfectly in the home kitchen.

The Berghoff Café Cookbook offers recipes across the food gamut from bar snacks to paninis and pizzas to yummy desserts. Dishes like Alsatian Onion Soup, Apple Pie Squares with Cheddar Crust, and Westpahlian Ham Panini with Granny Smith Apple and Applesauce are a few of the standouts. Ms. Carlyn has updated the restaurant menu since her great-grandfather's day while also keeping his spirit and food very much alive. She calls it 'tradition with a twist,' and I'd say that is quite apt.

I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for straightforward, comfort food pure and simple. It's all there. Nothing fancy; nothing pretentious. The next meal I want to prepare is from the Daily Specials section: Classic Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Jus Lié and Spaetzle. Salisbury steak is a dish my Nebraska born grandmother made often when I was growing up. Comfort food.

My Status: Settling into fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: 'gleaning,' or the act of gathering public produce, or leftover farmer's market produce, and giving it to the poor, needy and hungry. A history of the movement, and those that are involved with it. Reviews: Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Local Report - Lotusland

89 miles, about 1.25 hours, from my home in Atwater Village.

Lotusland in Montecito, California is a wonder to behold. I had the privilege of seeing it this past Saturday. Faye, a follower of this blog, and a docent at Lotusland, very kindly invited me up to visit. I took Robert and my mother, Dawn, along with me. Lotusland has nothing to do with food but it is so unique that I decided to write a bit about it here. A 39-acre botanical garden containing subtropical and tropical plants from around the world, Lotusland also includes rare cycads (the oldest plant species in the world), cacti, palms and euphorbias. The place is a botanist and gardener's dream.

A well-known Polish opera singer and socialite, Madame Ganna Walska, purchased the estate that would become the gardens in 1941. She spent the next forty-three years designing unusual displays with exotic plants. A series of gardens takes the visitor through a labyrinth of landscape adventures. There are a total of twenty-six uniquely different gardens spread across the thirty-nine acres. Gardens such as the Japanese, the Aloe, the Fern, the Cactus, the Topiary, the Cycad, and the Succulent to name a few. Her original purpose for purchasing the property was to create a retreat for Tibetan monks. The original name was 'Tibetland' and after the monks never appeared, she renamed the property Lotusland in honor of the Indian lotus that grew in one of the property's ponds. 'Madame,' as she is and was known, spent a lot time and resources seeking out the most unusual species of plants, and often securing the biggest and the best plants available. She was a demanding, intelligent and extremely creative personality. She had a vision of what she wanted and didn't stop until she had it. After marrying and divorcing six husbands designing, overseeing, and working in the gardens became her life work. She worked on Lotusland up to her death in 1984 when she was in her late 90s. She left the property to a foundation in her name, and the gardens are now owned by the citizens of Montecito.

The gardens are truly stunning. My favorite garden was the Theater Garden. A theater with stage and seating all in plants. Curved hedges and a raised grassy area formed the stage. Rows of hedges behind and around the stage formed the backstage areas where props were stored and actors changed costumes. Madame actually staged plays there often. I had heard about Lotusland from my mother who had visited before but I didn't quite grasp the uniqueness of what it was. It's hard to until actually witnessing it in person. The only way to visit Lotusland is to make a reservation to go on a docent-lead tour. As mentioned above, our docent was Faye. Her knowledge of the plants, and the history of the place was astounding. Not only did she know every plant's botanical name, she was also able to tell us where it came from, how it grows, and why Madame chose it for Lotusland. It was a vastly interesting two and half hour experience. One I absolutely recommend.

Me, my mother, Dawn, and Faye, our docent.

Pictures don't really do it justice but here are few we took during our tour.

The following two photos are of my favorite garden: the 'Theater Garden' where Madame put on outdoor plays!

Lotusland is located in Montecito, California, for reservations call 805-969-9990, or e-mail: reservations@lotusland.org. Website: http://www.lotusland.org/

My Status: Settling into fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: 'gleaning,' or the act of gathering public produce, or leftover farmer's market produce, and giving it to the poor, needy and hungry. A history of the movement, and those that are involved with it. Reviews: The Berghoff Cafe Cookbook and Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Farmers' Market Menu with Chef Michael Reardon, Catch Restaurant

Last week I had the pleasure of joining my friend Lori's mother for a terrific foodie outing in Santa Monica. Lori's mother, who lives in New York City, was given a very nice gift and asked me to be her guest for part of it. She spent three luxurious nights in a beautiful suite overlooking the beach at the Casa del Mar hotel in Santa Monica. On day two of her visit, last Wednesday, I met her at the hotel at 9:00 a.m. and we went to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market with the hotel's chef, Michael Reardon. We helped Chef Reardon pick out ingredients that he then prepared for us that night at Catch, the hotel's restaurant that overlooks the Pacific. We spent forty-five minutes or so walking the market; Chef Reardon looked through the amazing produce, spoke with a few of the purveyors, and listened to our likes and dislikes. Later that night we returned to the hotel for our special famers' market dinner. Here is the menu that Chef Reardon created for us:

Pancetta Wrapped Figs with Wild Arugula, Tomcord Grapes and Taleggio Crostini
Alaskan Halibut with Piperade and Littleneck Clams
Braised Beef Short Ribs with Wiser Farms Carrots, and Potato Puree
Panna Cotta with Local Strawberries

The food was wonderful; perfectly prepared. No fancy tricks here. Good, clean, straight forward preparations and flavors. Honest cooking. The exciting part for me was knowing where the ingredients came from, and being part of selecting them. I knew they were local, very fresh ingredients because I was with the chef when he chose them. Both Lori's mother and I were very pleased with our meal. Every dish was prepared with care and an eye for detail. The short ribs were so good that Lori's mother made a reservation for the next night on our way out so she could have them again. Some of the menu items that Chef Reardon picked out at the farmers' market included the figs, arugula and the Tomcord grapes in the fig dish. I'd never heard of Tomcord grapes before, and just as the name implies, they're a cross between a Thompson seedless and a Concord grape. To make the piperade for the halibut, he used several varieties of peppers from the market. Wiser Farms is a well-known local, organic farm that supplies many of the local farmers' markets and chefs with amazing produce. The carrots and potatoes in the short ribs dish came from Wiser Farms. And the strawberries in the panna cotta came from Harry's Berries at the market. Harry's Berries is a berry farm out of Oxnard, California.

Chef Reardon oversees the restaurants at three properties in the Edward Thomas Collection (ETC) of hotels: Shutters on the Beach and Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, and Hotel Andalucia in Santa Barbara. He has also cooked at Tra Vigne, and Cantinetta and Wine Bar in the Napa Valley. While living on the East Coast he had his own restaurant, Bistro Zella in Upstate New York. His early cooking days found him in the kitchen of the legendary New York restaurant Le Bernardin.

The day and evening were a pleasure. I thank Lori's mother for inviting me to be her guest. And I thank Chef Reardon for a delicious and enjoyable meal at Catch.

My Status: Settling into fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: 'gleaning,' or the act of gathering public produce, or leftover farmer's market produce, and giving it to the poor, needy and hungry. A history of the movement, and those that are involved with it. Reviews: The Berghoff Cafe Cookbook and Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine.
Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Guest Blog: 'That's The Ticket' by Lori Berhon

First of all, I can't believe it's been a month since my last blog post. How did that happen? It's been a very busy time for me. At the beginning of September I celebrated a milestone birthday. Mid-September was the big bash with family and friends from near and far (Paris even!) to celebrate said birthday. I am in the midst of a major overhaul and redesign of my blog. And I started back to my full-time job as a movie marketing consultant. Ack! Just. Not. Enough. Time. Hopefully, that much time between posts will not happen again. I aim to be sure it does not. In any case apologies for being away. I think I am back.

I have always been interested in both food and film; I have been lucky enough to work in both with some degree of success in each. I started my professional life learning to cook in France; upon my return to the U.S. I worked in the food and restaurant industry for many years. One of the jobs was working for the Italian film producer Dino de Laurentiis (Giada's grandfather) when he opened his Italian-esque food emporium, DDL Foodshow, in New York City. The job started off with many of the Foodshow personnel working out of Dino's film production offices in the Gulf & Western Building on Columbus Circle. It was there that I met my friend Lori Berhon. She was a receptionist at Dino De Laurentiis Productions before coming to work with us at the Foodshow. That was in 1982; we're still friends. Lori loves to cook, try new restaurants, and eat well which we did, and do, often in New York, and whenever she makes it out to California.

As mentioned above I recently had a milestone birthday. Lori came out to Los Angeles from New York to help me celebrate. While she was here she mentioned a food and film piece she recently wrote for her company newsletter. I asked her to send it to me and she did. I so enjoyed reading it, and it is full of such good information on foodie films that I asked her to guest blog it on 100 Miles.

So take it away, Lori...

That's The Ticket!

With summer blockbuster season coming to an end (and where were all the blockbusters this year anyway?), I was planning to take another recession-beating look at rentable substitutes for hot flicks. I began considering Julie/Julia, and I quickly found myself entirely diverted by the subject of food films. There are a lot of them.

A La Cuisine!

Nora Ephron's new film shows how the lives of Julia Child and Julie Powell are changed by French cooking, but this is hardly the first time that particular catalyst has been portrayed on film. Babette's Feast, the 1987 film version of an Isak Dinesen story, shows how French food revitalizes the souls of an elderly Lutheran congregation in Denmark and the refugee they have sheltered. If you heard what Julie Powell was able to accomplish in a kitchen closet in Queens and you think that's impressive, wait 'til you see what Babette Hersant (Stéphane Audran) achieves in an isolated 19th century village.

Lasse Halstrom's whimsical Chocolat (2000), based on the novel by Joanne Harris, implies that sometimes even the French need a little gustatory shakeup. Boasting a rich and delicious cast, this counts as Johhny Depp's first 'chocolate' film.

The eponymous Vatel (Gérard Depardieu) of 2000, an historic French chef, is ordered to achieve the impossible in a 17th century castle. While unusually downbeat for a foodie film, this well-researched, opulent biopic provides a setting of spectacle and intrigue for a truly mind-boggling feast.

International Buffet

France certainly doesn't hold a monopoly on cinematic cuisine. The mouth-watering food in The Big Night (1996) is Italian. Like "Julie/Julia," this film features dramatic kitchen action, period glamour and the always wonderful Stanley Tucci (who also co-directed). The piece de resistance, the Timpano, had audiences drooling and the Tucci family recipe for this baked dome of dough, filled with more layers of deliciousness than a 6 foot Italian sub, was published everywhere. If you find yourself with nothing to do one weekend, here's a link: The Timpano Recipe (from 'Big Night')

In the 1993 version of Laura Esquivel's cult novel Like Water For Chocolate (directed by Alfonso Arau), a Mexican woman's hidden passion magically infuses the food she prepares, conveying a galaxy of emotions to those who eat it. For a kind of kitchen magic you're likely to have experienced in your own life, in Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), a beautiful and quietly funny film by the masterful Ang Lee, food is the medium through which a Taiwanese chef and his daughters communicate love. A few of the many other films that linger memorably over family meals: Pieces of April (2003, before Katie Holmes was half of TomKat) takes on Thanksgiving; George Tilman Jr.'s 1997 Soul Food looks at Sunday dinner; and of course there's My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002).

The chef-protagonist of Sandra Nettlebeck's 2001 German comedy/romance Mostly Martha (aka "Bella Martha") has distanced herself from family and freinds, and form all emotions but anger, until the guardianship of a suddenly orphaned niece forces her to think outside the icebox. Forced to share her restaurant kitchen and to experience life (and food) beyond her control, Martha opens herself up to the possibilities of being human. If the plot sounds familiar, it's because this is the original upon which Hollywood based the 2007 Catherine Zeta-Jones RomCom vehicle, No Reservations.

A different kind of female chef is the downtrodden widow who, while trying to establish the ultimate noodle shop, provides the through-line for the comedy bento box of food motifs that is Juzo Itami's 1985 Tampopo. For the pregnant Southern Waitress of Adrienne Shelly's 2007 indie gem, food - or at least pie - is a metaphor for practically everything.

And for a window into what the landscape was like in the world before The Food Network, check out Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? Based on the novel by Nan and Ivan Lyons, this 1978 comic mystery is a dated, slightly hokey, guilty pleasure. Each of the string of victims is found in his kitchen, and the grisly manner of death is related in some way to the chef's signature dish.

NONE of the films mentioned above should be watched on an empty stomach!

Discomfort Food

On the other hand, there is some foodie fare that might benefit from running on empty: cannibal movies.

Are you imagining Anthony Hopkins relishing "fava beans and a nice Chianti" (slurp slurp)? Or maybe remembering your favorite zombie flick? Sure those have their cannibal elements, but what I'm thinking of is the kind of story that turns tables on the foodie genre.

Eating Raoul, Paul Bartel's spoof of contemporary (1982) L.A. swingers features himself and Mary Woronov as a nice conservative couple who only want to be together and would kill to be able to open a restaurant. Literally. In the end, cannibalism is the only way to dispose of a most inconvenient corpse.

A different type of necessity drives the butcher of a Delicatessen (1991, France) on the ground floor of an apartment building. In this future dystopia, meat is incredibly scarce and people mysteriously disappear. Do the math. Then add the star-crossed love of the butcher's and the Chaplinesque outsider hired as a handyman (and future roast) to the complications of this darkly comic tale of survival.

Love and cannibalism figure again in Tim Burton's 2007 film of Stephen Sondheim's opéra bouffe Sweeney Todd. In 19th century London, Man is ground up by Machine (both industrial and political). Haunted and thirsting for vengeance, Mr. Todd slashes out. The adoring, but always practical, baker Mrs. Lovett observes that it "seems an awful waste" to just chuck the body out when she's got a dusty shop full of meatless meat pies. If injustice begets rage and hunger, which in turn beget a psychopathic spree of mass murder and recycling, "It's man devouring man, my dear, and who are we to deny it here?"

Peter Greenaway turns a lush eye on just about every human appetite in his gorgeous and very nasty 1990 fantasia The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. The fabulous cast is lead by Michael Gambon (yes, there was life before "Dumbledore") as The Thief and Helen Mirren as His Wife, and includes appearances by both Tim Roth and Gary Oldman. Greed rules.

T.V. Dinner

I don't care about Michael Pollan's recent N.Y. Times condemnation of televised cooking as the spectator-sport-of-choice for a super sized population - I love foodie television. Pollan's demographic wisdom states that "how to" watchers are stay-at-home moms: while the rest of us kick back at night with our frozen pizza to watch other people eat what we wish was in front of us. Personally, I find it beyond boring to watch Guy Fieri chomp blissfully down on another huge portion of grease and/or carbs, and more boring still to hear his litany of empty catch phrases ("now that's what I'm talking about!" doesn't tell me a thing about the food other than, gee, he really likes it).

What I tune in to see is chefs, pâtissiers, etc. doing what they do best. The more they know what they're doing, the more I want to watch, and the more I'm running to hit the kitchen. No, I'm not likely to pit myself against another cook to see how many different things I can make out of an artichoke or to make a fabulous meal out of a basket of incompatible mystery ingredients. But I do love to cook and starting back with (yes), Julia Child, television chefs exposed me to new ingredients and unfamiliar cuisines. I learned new techniques (no one ever taught me to cut a "chiffonade" of basil - I saw it on T.V.), and continue to learn better ways to do the things I've been doing for years. I may be too tired to cook every night, but when I see Bobbie Flay do a mac-&-cheese "throw down," I may spend the next couple of months of weekends trying out a bunch of mac-&-cheese recipes to see which one I liked best.

To me, foodie T.V. is not only entertainment but education. I'm not the only one who thinks that - after all, PBS was arguably the first food network and they continue to produce some great shows. Today, several networks offer shows that literally cater to every taste. And don't forget that episodes of Julia's original television show, The French Chef, are now available on DVD. Learn a few tricks and, more importantly, learn to embrace the excitement of trying new things in the kitchen.

Bon Appétit!

Lori Berhon is a New York writer who once or twice a month plays hookey from working on her new novel to blog. Her occasional musings can be found @ Light Up The Cave. Her most recently completed novel, The Breast of Everything (which has nothing to do with food) is represented by Roger S. Williams of Publish or Perish Agency.

My Status: September was beyond busy. I hope October is less so. Fall is slowly coming to Southern California; cooler temperatures. Time to think about heartier food. More eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: 'gleaning,' or the act of gathering public produce, or leftover farmer's market produce, and giving it to the poor, needy and hungry. A history of the movement, and those that are involved with it. Reviews: The Berghoff Cafe Cookbook and Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine.

Bookmark and Share