Ode to a Dive

Actually, THE Dive. Like a brilliant TV sitcom canceled before Sweeps Week hit, this little bar was torn from us before its time. Granted, I never really understood its place as a Hugo's Restaurant sibling...but danged if they didn't serve up the best durned-black bean burgers this gal had ever done tasted! I never got to try their ethereally-named cocktails, either, having always visited during working hours. No drinky-drinks on Look-Look's time!
Anyway, my real point in this blog is one of speculation. There is a sign up on the front of The Dive, promising something new and exciting in the coming days. Here's what I think: I spotted an Application for New Ownership or something similarly official at the Dive a few months ago, and on that App...the names of Milliken and Feniger. That's right, the Two Hot Tamales, creators of my FAVE restaurants in LA, Ciudad and Border Grill. Could it be REMOTELY possible that they're extending their (albeit small) empire to RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO MY OFFICE?!?! Demeter, that goddess of the bountiful harvest, has surely been listening to my pleas.
Again, this is all speculation...but I hope that for once my wishful thinking will pay off with bowls of hot tortilla soup all around. Mmmmmmm!



Presidents' Day Eats

It feels like absolutely forever since I had a day off, all to myself...I actually had time to neaten up the house (that is, neaten those corners that David has designated "Emily piles"), sing my recital rep, and plan a dinner that for once would not be rushed!

My mom gave me a copy of The New Moosewood Cookbook by Molly Kayden sometime last year, and while I've flipped through it quite a bit, I hadn't actually made any recipes out of it. Lately, though, I've been craving healthy cooking, and Moosewood promised me that. I settled on the Onion Soup, a top contender for the Easiest Recipes Ever Award. Anyone can do this one, kids...all you need are 4 large onions (I am in love with Sweet Mayan Yellows right now), a big stockpot and an hour to spare. Throw a couple spices in the mix (thyme and mustard this time around) and some butter to get the onions started and you're golden. I must admit to being a little underwhelmed as I began this dish--could 4 cups of water really replace beef stock sufficiently? But after those onions sat in the stockpot for 40 minutes, soaking in their own 'juices' so to speak, they were as tender as overcooked spaghetti, and smelled just heavenly. Pay the onions minimal attention, with just the occasional stir to ensure they don't stick to the pan, and you will wind up with a really simple and delicious soup. 

I had some ciabatta bread left over from the weekend, which I sliced into four small pieces, brushed with crushed garlic and olive oil, and stuck in the toaster oven for about 9 minutes at 350 degrees. I plopped the slices into the soup and laid a thin piece of Swiss cheese over each serving. Let me tell you, that beef broth was not missed one bit.

To go with our soup, I decided to finally test out my new panini press, which has been gathering dust since I received it for Christmas. I had some sliced sourdough bread, on which I added a spread of goat cheese, artichoke hearts, chives,crushed garlic, jalapeno, rosemary and thyme (next time I may leave out the last two and substitute other things--it was a little too woodsy for me); on top of that was some thinly sliced oven roasted turkey breast. I added some balsamic to my oil and garlic spread (I love garlic-sue me) and brushed this onto both sides of the sandwiches. I grilled the sandwiches for about 5 minutes, and they were pretty much perfect. 

NOTE: Some people may still wonder how practical it is to use panini presses, or for that matter, Foreman grills, considering how difficult it is to clean up the insides afterwards. It is for that reason I ALWAYS use aluminum foil, sprayed, as protection for anything cooked in those types of appliances. Trust me, it works exactly the same, and you'll still get those neat grill marks, but without the clean-up hassle afterwards!

To end this cozy comfort foods dinner, I made something else I had been dying to try out from scratch: rice pudding! Using some of our new cookware, I was able to begin the pudding (using Arborio, or risotto, rice for extra thick-and-gooeyness) on top of the stove and move it into the oven to bake using THE SAME PAN. Yeah, yeah, I know, big deal, but it's new for ME. And therefore awesome.  

Want to top off your own cozy evening at home? Try this simple recipe for yourself! I put a couple of personal touches on it--some lemon zest along with the spices, with a dollop of homemade whipped cream and blueberries on top! 



David's Birthday!

For some lame reason, David decided to have his birthday on a Monday this year. To alleviate said lameness, we opted to have a weekend-long celebration leading up to his big 2-6. Saturday was a fun-filled day of mini-golf and Universal City Walk; Sunday was a surprise from me to him. Since we got together, we've shared a common interest in learning more about wine. We've certainly drank a lot of it together, but with no real rhyme or reason regarding our choices beyond an attraction to the price and look of the bottle.

So, I started plotting a wine tasting excursion a few weeks ago. I wasn't sure where to go for it--we didn't have plans to go to Wine Country in the near future, so I was on the hunt for something for local. Goldstar Events actually had a couple of tastings offered, but they were upwards of $50/person. I mentioned these to KG, a friend at work, and she steered me towards Silverlake Wine in, you guessed it, Silverlake. She told me that they had weekly wine tastings with food that were really great and informative...and a lot more affordable than the frou-frou tastings I was coming across.

We were a little early arriving on Sunday and had a chance to wander around the shop a bit. It's a small place, and smells just like State Liquor back in Wootown. I'd forgotten what stores that ONLY sell liquor smell like. The wine selection was seemingly impressive, but again, we really don't know anything.

Once all of the attendees had crammed into the store, a bunch of wine store worker bees began serving the first drink: Domaine St. Vincent Brut NV New Mexico. A sparkling wine that reminded my inexperienced tongue of champagne, I found this one fairly refreshing and light. David, who doesn't like champagne, didn't enjoy it as much. 

As everyone was polishing off this drink, someone I assumed was the owner finally actually welcomed us. The theme of the day, he told us, was the wines of a particular Central CA winery, Lioco--with the exception of the first wine, all of selections were Lioco. Accompanying the wines were tapas of sorts by Auntie Em's Restaurant in Eagle Rock, which was particularly exciting, since I've been meaning to check them out. 

As I'm continuing this blog over a week after the actual tasting (slacker!), I am just going to cover a few key points. Besides the Brut, the wines we drank were:
Chardonnay "Stuhlmuller" 2006 Alexander Valley
Pinot Noir "Michaud" 2006 Chalone
Pinot Noir "Klindt" 2006 Anderson Valley
Pinot Noir "Hirsch" 2006 Sonoma
The names in quotations refer to the actual vineyard from which that particular wine's grapes hailed. One thing we novices learned that day was that the most important thing to note when you are buying wine is where the grapes came from. Learn your great vineyards and you'll seemingly never err.

Something else we learned was that wines are treated with lactic acid (I am not clear if that goes for ALL wines or just certain ones...) and so some wines actually taste creamy. After hearing about this, we tasted the Pinot Noir Michaud, and I tasted the buttery notes within it. The taste eventually got a little bitter, but that buttery richness was enough to make me a fan.

The menu to accompany the wines included:
Crab terrine with chives and tomatoes on French bread
Golden beet salad with blood orange dressing, pea tendrils and goat cheese
Mushroom "pate" avec crudites et pain
Beef bourguignon
Thankfully we're not vegetarians...as it was, we steered clear of the beef. The other three dishes were quite tasty, though, especially that mushroom pate--essentially a mushroom and cream dip. Yummy!
Oh! To top the afternoon off, Auntie Em's served their famous cupcakes, bite-sized. We both grabbed a red velvet and were licking our fingers until we got to the car. 

Final note: This was basically a cocktail party where we didn't know anyone and had to pay for admittance. As a couple of minor wallflowers, this was not our ideal situation. I don't want to knock the place or the event. We both had a lot of fun, and I think it's a great environment for someone super outgoing (or on the prowl) or a big group of friends...I would definitely be down to checking it out again with a few more peeps. Any takers? 

Anyhoo, thanks for reading this installment. 



Super Bowl Snackin'

Krysta and Kenneth hosted the Super Bowl this year. It would have been a damn shame any other way, frankly, considering that behemoth big screen they've got sitting in the place of honor in their living room. As with any gathering I'm invited to, my response was "I'll be there...what should I bring?" and as usual Krysta left the playing field wiiiide open for me.
So, I started looking through my recipe stash for ideas. (Oh, and it is a stash. Poor uber-organized David went so far as to promise to put my whole collection into a cohesive unit when he saw my drawers stuffed with printed and scribbled-out recipes.) My goal: bring something delicious, that the partygoers likely had never had before. I found my inspiration within a cute little dessert cookbook called Angels in My Kitchen by Caryl Westwood. It was the Amaretto Cheesecake that did it, but I didn't want to bring a big ol' pie to a SPORTS party, for God's sake. I'm a food snob but I do have some sense. I decided to translate the idea of cheesecake into bars. I would switch out the regular ol' graham cracker crust with a chocolate one, adjust some recipe portioning (5 containers of cream cheese would be just a little ridiculous for an 8x8 pan), and add some flair at the end for good measure. I consulted several different cheesecake and cheesecake bar recipes, as well as that trusty resource known as "Mom", but in the end basically flew by the seat of my pants. Lucky for all present, it all worked out, taste-wise. Next time I may very well cut out the glaze completely, and could increase the amount of cream cheese a bit. Also, I had some issue with the crust sticking to the pan (yes, I greased it)--I am thinking I may have baked it on its own for a bit too long? Anyway, here is the recipe. Enjoy!

Em's Amaretto Cheesecake Bars
20 crushed chocolate filled sandwich cookies (ie Joe Joe's)
4 tblsp butter
Combine and press into greased (spray is ok) 8x8 pan. Refrigerate. Bake in 350
degree oven for 12 minutes or until set.
12 oz (1.5 packages) cream cheese
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 tblsp flour
zest from one orange
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
3 tblsp amaretto
1 tsp almond extract
Combine cream cheese, sugar, flour and zest in mixing bow--mix until smooth. Add egg, yolk, amaretto and extract. Pour over partially baked crust and bake in 350 degree oven for 25-28 minutes, until firm and brown on the edges. Refrigerate tonight.
6 oz white chocolate (I used morsels)
1/4 c heavy cream
2 tblsp Amaretto
The next day, melt the white chocolate, combined with the cream, over a low heat.
Stir in amaretto. Let the glaze cool slightly and ladle evenly over the cheesecake. Return to the refrigerator to set.
2-3 pieces toffee Candy (I used Trader Joe's English Toffee)
Process in food processor until in small chunks. Sprinkle evenly over bars. Cut bars into small squares and serve chilled.

I had actually originally intended to make two things, because you know, I'm an over-doer. However, David found a yummy recipe that he wanted to try out, so I was able to share my over-doing with my guy. His choice? Fried Rice Balls Stuffed with Mozzarella. I got super excited after reading this recipe because it gave me
the opportunity to do something I've been wanting to do for a long time--make risotto! That's right, in addition to making the actual treat, we made two full servings of that famously tricky dish to go INTO the treat. And we succeeded!
Since I am not sure of the rules as far as copyrighting recipes goes (and honestly, because I am tired), I'm not going to write out the recipe here. However, here are the super easy basics:
  1. make a batch of risotto
  2. cool it overnight
  3. combine risotto with a couple of eggs and form into balls the size of small fists, stirring in breadcrumbs to help balls keep shape
  4. poke a hole in the center of each ball and stick in a small cube of mozzarella (we used fresh whole milk mozzarella, which David called ice cream mozzarella-so yummy!)
  5. seal up hole in ball
  6. roll risotto balls in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs-repeat
  7. fry balls in batches of 4-5 in pot of oil
  8. drain on paper towels
  9. serve hot

Note: we saved some of the rice balls at home. I decided to stick a couple in the toaster oven last night to bake, rather than frying them, and BOY, were they good. This is a more healthful approach, and the cheese really melts in the middle. YUM!