Thursday, February 26, 2009

French Bean Soup

Brian and I were just home from Vegas this weekend, and we wanted to cook up food in the fridge for dinner, so here is what we came up with without going out to the store.  Almost all of the food was free from photo shoots I had worked on previously that week, and some was from our garden.  

What we had:
Yellow foot mushrooms
Chicken stock (made previously in the week from a chicken by us, not from the box)
Mixed Dried Beans

What came from the garden to add in:
Savoy Spinach
Dinosaur Kale

Step 1:  Soak the beans overnite, but if you don't have time to, which is what happened to us since were out of town the nite before we put the beans into pan with about 1 -2 inches of water over them, brought the water to a boil and turned it off, and let them sit for 1 hour.

Step 2:
Sautéed up the fennel, carrots, celery and onions with some olive oil for about 10 - 20 minutes, added some salts and spices (not sure what exactly Brian did that when I wasn't looking), and added the garlic in towards the end, so it didn't burn.  Did this in our Le Cruset 6 3/4 quart pan.

Step 3: Added chicken stalk to the carrots, celery, onion, fennel and garlic sautee'.  Drain the beans that were soaking and add them in as well.  Tie together the thyme and oregano and add it into the soup. Bring everything to a boil, then set to a simmer on low.  Add mushrooms, and some more salt and spices.  Simmer on low until beans are soft. 

Step 4: Add in the greens for about 5 minutes before you are ready to eat the soup.

Step 5: Garnish with parmesan or similar grated cheese, we used a combo of nice hard grated cheese.

Soup was very yummy with garlic bread, too.  Yum Yum Yum....

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Entertaining: Cambridge Style

I lived in India in the late 1970's and early 1980's. While there, I learned to love and cook Indian food. The unique blend of spices (sweet, savory, and hot) give a sensory sensation like no other food does. For Christmas I received Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking and have been experimenting ever since.

To test my skills, I invited some friends over for a 3 course meal on Saturday night.

The menu was simple northern Indian style and consisted of:
Saag Goshi (Lamb with Spinach)
Taridar Chukandar (Gently Stewed Beets)
Masoor Dal (Red Lentils Tarka)
Basmati Rice
Green Onion Chutney

Photos: By John Carlson

It was not difficult to time the meal and when guests arrived at 6:00 pm, everything was just finishing.

Photos: John Carlson

Sharing this meal with friends was wonderful. It was hot and spicy but the yogurt gave a cool break.

Photos: John Carlson

Here are the Recipes. Most of the spices can be found at the Village Store Coop or any good spice retailer.

Beef or Lamb with Spinach


Saag Goshi (Beef or Lamb with Spinach)

1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach
1 large onion (about 10 ounces) peeled and coarsely chopped
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, peeled
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 bay leaves
10 cardamon pods
8 whole cloves
2 2-inch sticks cinnamon
1 1/3 pounds stewing beef or boned shoulder of lamb, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1+ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on how hot you want it)
1/2 teaspoon garam masala


Following the instructions on the package, drop the spinach into boiling water and boil just until it is defrosted. Drain and squeeze out most of the water.

Put the onion, ginger, and garlic into the container of a food processor and pulse, starting and stopping with great rapidity until finely chopped.

Put the oil in a large pot and set over high heat. When the oil is hot, put in the bay leaves, cardamon posd, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Stir once or twice and put in the finely chopped onion, ginger and garlic. Sir and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Put in the beef or lamb, the spinach, 2.5 cups of water, salt, coriander, cumin, and cayenne. Cover, securely and bring up to full boil over high heat. Now lower the heat to simmer and cook (lamb for 1-hour/beef for 1.5-hours). Remove the lid and add the garam masala and bring the contents to a boil again. Cook uncovered, stirring gently over high heat for 7-10 minutes or until the sauce is reduced and thick.

Masor Dal (Red Lentils Tarka

1.5 cups red lentils (masoor dal)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1.25-1.5 teaspoons salt
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
Generous pinch of ground asafetida (this spice can be found in most health food stores)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3-5 dried, hot red chiles.

Pick over the lentils and wash in several changes of water. Drain. Put in a heavy saucepan. Add 5 cups water and the turmeric. Stir and bring to a simmer (do not let it boil over). Cover in such a way as to leave the lid just very slightly ajar, turn the heat to low, and simmer gently for 35-40 minutes or until tender. Stir a few times during the cooking. Add the salt and mix. Leve covered, on very low heat, as yo do the next step.

Put the oil in a small frying pan and set over medium-high heat.
When the oil is hot,put in the asafetida; then a second later, add the cumin seeds. Let the cumin seeds sizzle for a few seconds. Put in the red chiles. As soon as they turn dark red (this takes just a few seconds), lift up the lid of the lentil pan and pour in the contents of the frying pan oil as well as spices. Cover the saucepan immediately to trap the aromas.

Taridar Chukandar (Gently Stewed Beets)

2 pounds beets without stems and leaves
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1 cup canned chopped tomatoes or lightly drained canned whole tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt

Peel the beets and cut into 1-inch chunks

Put the oil in a wide, medium-sized pan and set over high heat. When the oil is hot, put in the cumin seeds and bay leaf. As soon as the bay leaf darkens slights (this takes just seconds) put in the tomatoes, ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, cayenne, beets, salt, and 1-1/2 cups water. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the beets are tender.

All dishes serve 4-6 people.

We added a nice red wine to the table.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Did You Hear? I Love Pork.

I think, if you've read this blog before, you may have realized that pork and I are totally BFF. In fact, my husband should be a little worried that some day I will run off with the pork guy at the farmer's market. Because, free pork for life? Tempting. So it's pretty obvious that for the Valentine's Day dinner cook-off (please, like it wasn't a competition in my brain), I went with a porky first course. That would be the Country Terrine with Pistachios from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook.
Like I said in an earlier post, this wasn't a particularly difficult dish (given that you own a stand mixer with a meat grinder attachment, which lucky me, I do). It just took a HELL of a long time to make. Like four days. Maybe five. I kind of lost count at some point. Most of that time is spent letting the meat marinate - first after cutting it into cubes, then again after grinding it (I deviated from the recipe a bit in this) and then AGAIN after you cook the terrine.
Hopefully you're not creeped out by the above picture of meat as it comes out of the grinder. If you are, I would seriously reconsider ever attempting this dish on your own. And also, SISSY!
But after all the crazy time and (at least procuring the meat products) effort, THIS DISH KICKS ASS. Like it's almost a week later and I'm STILL eating it. Even though I think it's probably as bad, if not worse than the Porkstrosity we had at the Super Bowl. I love this terrine. I would make out with this terrine at a junior high school dance. And if you're smart, you'll get the taste of porky goodness on your lips, too.

Country Terrine with Pistachios
by Alice Waters, from the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook

3 lbs. lean boneless pork shoulder
1/2 lb. back fat (from a pig, natch)
3 oz. pancetta
1 1/2 tbsp. salt
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
8 allspice berries
1/4 tsp. dried thyme (I used fresh from the garden and went with a full tablespoon)
1 clove
A pinch of cayenne (about 1/4 tsp. in my dish)
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1/2 c. shelled whole pistachios
4 bay leaves
OPTIONAL: Caul fat

1. Day 1 - Cut the pork shoulder, back fat and pancetta into 1 inch thick pieces. Toss the meat with 1 1/2 tsp. salt and refrigerate. (I tossed it with the spice mixture from the next step and let the cubes rest over night).
2. Day 1 or 2 (I did it on day 1) - Pulverize the 2 bay leaves, the peppercorns, allspice, thyme, clove and cayenne in a mortar or spice mill (or coffee grinder). Add 2/3 of this spice mixture to the meat and mix together. Reserve the remainder.
3. Day 2 - Grind the seasoned meat using the 1/4 inch plate of a meat grinder (this would be the bigger holed grinder attachment on the Kitchen Aid). Grind 1/3 of the ground meat again. Combine the two meat mixtures and refrigerate overnight.
4. Day 3 - The next day, add the parsley, garlic and pistachios, and mix lightly with your hands. Do not overhandle or the texture of the terrine will be too dense. To taste for seasoning, fry a bit of the mixture and chill it (it will taste different when cold, which is how the dish is served). It may require more salt or spice mixture at the time (mine didn't). Don't fuss with it too much.
5. Day 3 - Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place 2 bay leaves on the bottom of each of two 5 cup (1.2 L) earthenware terrines or glass loaf pans. Add half of the pork mixture to each terrine. (OR: Freeze half of the mixture, enough for a second terrine, as I did). Cover each with a lid or with foil. (If you wish, line the 2 pans with caul fat, leaving some hanging over the sides; add the bay leaves and pork mixture, wrap the caul over the top and do not cover.) Tap the pans on a tabletop to settle everything. Put a kitchen towl in the bottom of a deep roasting pan and set the terrines on it (the towel will insulate the bottom of the pan). Fill the pan with enough hot water to come 2/3 up the sides of the terrines and bake until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees F, in about 1 1/2 hours (mine took about 98 minutes total). Remove the terrines from the roasting pan and cool at room temperature for about 2 hours, then cover and refrigerate overnight.
6. Days 4-6 - The terrines CAN be eaten the next day, but they will develop more flavor if left for 2-3 days. To unmold, dip the pans in hot water for a few minutes and invert. Cut into thick slices and serve with strong Dijon mustard and cornichons.

Variations: Use half the mixture to make a terrine and the other half to make rustic sausages wrapped in caul fat for a meal the same day (well, the same day being Day 3). For a more complex terrine, add poultry livers and hearts, a little black truffle and a splash of Cognac.

Monday, February 16, 2009

25 Things I Love About LA #1 - The Hollywood Sign

Inspired by Just Another American in Paris' list of things she loves about her city, I decided it would be fun to post up "25 Things I Love About Los Angeles".

#1: The Hollywood Sign.
Maybe it's because I see it pretty much every day when I leave the house, but the sign has become for me what the Golden Gate Bridge or the Transamerica Pyramid were for me growing up in San Francisco. A visual touchstone of sorts. There's also the emotional jolt it gives me, any time I'm feeling frustrated with my real, paying job. I mean, c'mon, can I actually complain that I get to be doing what I (and a million other people) would kill for as a career? Sure, sometimes I have to write crap I don't believe in, but a lot of times I don't. And for that, I'm thankful.
And when you get to drive 10 minutes from your house and then hike up Bronson Canyon, which provides amazing views like this, well color me happy.

A Valentine's Food Extravaganza

This year for Valentine's Day, Noah and I decided to forego the ridiculously overpriced restaurants (yeah, I'm talking to you Sona) in favor of a homemade Valentine's feast. I proposed a fun idea - each of us makes three courses (app/main/dessert) and we end up with a six course tasting menu. Above is the table, set with the first round of dishes.
This homemade pork terrine was my first course. I used a recipe from the Chez Panisse Cafe Menu Book (which I will be posting later). And while it was time intensive, 2-3 days of meat marinating and 2-3 days of terrine resting, it wasn't all that labor-ific. And when the pork guy at your farmer's market doesn't blink when you ask for half a pound of back fat, you know you're good to go. I served it with a crusty sourdough boule, cornichons and Dijon mustard. I like to think it was as good as the one at Le Regalade in Paris.
Noah's dish was this Venetian Shrimp on Polenta dish, with a yummy butter lemon garlic sauce drizzled on top. The recipe came from an old Food + Wine article and was really simple and tasty.

My main course was the above crab duo. Bonus points for creative use of a claw. It's the crazy simple crab cake recipe from the Santa Monica Farmer's Market Cookbook and an equally simple Dungeness crab salad recipe from Sunday Suppers at Lucques. The salad is deconstructed and made up of roasted beets, avocado, watercress, crab and creme fraiche. The crab is dressed in a light dressing of oil, vinegar, lemon juice (which I subbed for the recommended lime juice), shallots and jalapeno. It was brilliant and complimented the crab perfectly.
Noah's main was a roasted game hen with thick bacon slices and roasted grapes. This simple combination kind of blew my mind. In fact, I'm thinking I'll eat the leftovers for lunch in a few minutes... Strangely enough, the recipe came from the same article in Food + Wine as the shrimp polenta, even though Noah had planned them out separately.
Above is the table, set with the second course. We drank an Alsatian Pinot Gris with all four of the dishes. A nice, dry match.
And finally, the dessert courses. I had been obsessing over the Whole Lemon Tart recipe that Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted a week or so back. I decided to use one of the precious Meyer lemons from my tree to make it, and instead of a full sized 9" tart, I went with mini tartlettes. I was kind of worried, having never tarted it up before (that's what she said), but everything turned out really, really well. Noah put together a mini cheese course - St. Andre triple cream and a 6 month aged Manchego. We ate it all, along with a 1999 Veuve Brut Rose champagne that Noah had given to me for Valentine's Day in 2005. So good!

By the end of the three hour meal, we were both stuffed and very, very happy. Who needs $500 dinners when you can make something even better at home for nowhere near that amount?

And did I mention I have enough dough and filling for two or three more tarts hanging out in my freezer right now. Yeah, let's see how long that lasts.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lucky Horsehoe

I shot this out on a walk this morning in Bronson Canyon. It was a beautiful morning, crisp and clear and cool after the rain of the last few days. I'll probably head up there again tomorrow, trying to sneak in another outdoor excursion before the rains start again.

I had my camera with me to take pictures for a little series I have planned for the site. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

NYT Mag Recipe Challenge #1 - Country Captain

I admit it, I suck at reading my Sunday New York Times in anything approaching a timely fashion. Because, honestly, I'm really only in it for three sections - Sunday Styles, Travel and the Magazine. Sure, if I need a new book to read I'll check out the Book Review. And if I feel like depressing the hell out of myself I'll read the front or Business sections. And maybe if there's a story on the Manning brothers I'll check out the (worst ever) Sports section. But for me, it's all about the Holy Trinity of fashion, travel... and food.

Which is where the Magazine section comes in. In their regular features they do a weekly column on food. It used to be a section where they took an old recipe and updated it with some high falutin (and most likely NYC) chef's spin on it. Recently they turned it into a rotation of three or four different columns per month, including the old version but adding in some new stuff. (The only new one I remember is this guy who is going to cook stuff with his pre-schooler foodie son. It's "aww, cute" but could get annoying.)

Anyway, they print a recipe or two with every column, which is nice. And for the first time in the many years of getting the Times, I've actually tried a recipe. And may do so again. Yep, it was good. And easy. But what was it? Country Captain. Whaaa???
Country Captain is a southern chicken dish (Charleston and Savannah like to argue over which city originated the dish) that reminds me quite a bit of a chicken version of my mom's shrimp creole crossed with Chicken Cacciatore. It was simple and tasty, two things anyone who doesn't feel like slaving in front of a stove for three hours on a weeknight is definitely looking for. Oh yes, and it was cheap - I'd guess under $20 for all the ingredients for a 4 person meal. The dish incorporates chicken thighs, an inexpensive cut of chicken. But you could probably use the breast, if dark meat doesn't do it for you*. You use canned tomatoes, green peppers, a little bacon for flavor and a side of rice for starchy goodtimes (or, if you're me and out of rice, couscous is a great substitute). And voila - dinner.

* If dark meat doesn't do it for you, you officially suck. Dark meat kicks light meats ass.


1/4 flour
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tbsp. butter
3 lbs. (about 8) chicken thighs
4 slices bacon
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. curry powder
3 tbsp. currants (I subbed raisins)
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes and their juices
3 tbsp. slivered almonds, toasted
Cooked white rice (or couscous)

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Combine the flour, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and the thyme in a bowl. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat until it foams. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, shaking off excess, and fry, in batches if needed, until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and drain off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the skillet.
3. Return the skillet to medium heat, add the bacon and fry until crispy. Transfer to a plate. Once cool, crumble and set aside.
4. Add the onion, pepper, celery, garlic, curry powder and 1 tablespoon of the currants to the skillet and sauté over medium-high heat until soft and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, bring to a boil and simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom of an ovenproof casserole large enough to hold the chicken snugly in one layer. Arrange the chicken on top. Pour the remaining sauce over and around the chicken. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for 15 minutes more.
6. Top with the crumbled bacon, remaining currants and slivered almonds. Serve with cooked rice and any condiments you wish.

Serves 4.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Bowl Funday and the Porkstrosity

That's right folks, we did it.

We made the Porkstrosity aka Pork Explosion aka Heart Attack in a Dish for the Super Bowl. Actually, Noah and Jeremy did it, with an assist from Param, Rice and Christina. I was just a post-pork spectator. And maybe I sampled the wares.
C'mon, you can't tell me this doesn't look fantastically tasty. It's a freakin' basket weave of bacon, encasing the best Sweet Italian sausages on offer at the H-wood Farmers Market. And there's BBQ sauce!
Okay, I know - it makes Paula Dean's typical offerings look like diet food. BUT when you break down the 5000 calorie, 500 fat gram log into its 15 serving slices, that's only 333 calories and (okay, gulp) 33 fat grams per slice - less if you use turkey bacon (gag). And I only had half a slice, and it was wrapped in a lettuce leaf, so damn, that's like health food right there.

Are you going to tell me that the ribs/burger/fried chicken YOU ate during the Super Bowl was any healthier than that? Yeah, I didn't think so.

All photos by Christina Stahlheber.