Happy Sunday

What is she, joking? Happy SUNDAY? But it's a school night...

Boys and girls, it's just been a good day! What can I say...woke up early and went for a nice power walk through the morning mist, then enjoyed some Almond
Amaretto waffles (ok, one waffle) with one of David's new fave kitchen toys.

Spent most of the Jesus part of the morning daydreaming about what kinds of goodies I'm going to make for Easter. (Hey, that's religious, right?) I'm thinking of giving Pete's a run for their money and making my own magical chocolate dipped marshmallows. 

All that sweet thinking made me want to get a little down and dirty when I got home. In the KITCHEN...jeez, minds out of gutter, please. We'd talked about making some of Dad's spaghetti sauce for a treat post-soccer game (D's, not mine--are you kidding?), but I felt like something a little more labor intensive too. I decided to pull out Dad's trusty Cardamom Bread recipe. Don't listen to those Atkins diet crazies, carbs rule.

Father May's Cardamom Bread
(makes two loaves)
Melt two tblsp butter slowly in a saucepan and turn burner off. Add one cup of milk to pan. Pour mixture into large bowl and add two eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 1/2 tsp salt, two packages of active dry yeast, one tsp crushed cardamom and one cup flour. Mix for two minutes with a wooden spoon. Gradually add 3.5 to 4 more cups of flour (the variation is dependent on how moist the dough appears to you). Dough will be sticky but not dry.
Place dough on a floured board or counter and knead by hand for five to ten minutes, really stretching and mixing the dough well. Have a greased bowl (use shortening or Baking Pam) ready. The bowl should be large enough to allow dough to double in size. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap so it does not dry out. Put bowl inside unheated oven for about an hour.
After an hour, remove dough from bowl, punch down and divide in half. Set one half aside. Take the other half, divide into three pieces and braid. You can also form the loaf without braiding. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough and place each loaf on a greased cookie sheet.
Brush/sprinkle the tops of the loaves with milk. The dough will be springy and soft, so handle with care. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the loaves. Cover loosely with
plastic wrap (I always just save the plastic wrap from the bowl) and place in a warm spot for 45 minutes (not the oven).
Set oven to 350 degrees. Once heated, bake loaves for approximately 30-35 minutes. If done, they will sound hollow when you tap them. Place on a rack to cool before wrapping. Or inhaling, as we tend to do.

I'm still perfecting my bread making skillZ but this loaves are looking pretty nice, don't you think? They took longer to bake than expected, which in my opinion is better than shorter. I have a feeling it has to do with my kickass new cookie sheet.
Just measure before you order. Lucky for us it is EXACTLY the right width for our little antique oven.

Oh, and here's a shot of the sauce for good measure. I'll share that recipe with
you someday, maybe, but today is not that day. Trust me, it's worth the wait.

Well, off to my afternoon nap. Hey, where do you think I get all this energy?



Nailed It!

Last year, I wrote a post about the demise of the Dive. A very sad thing--that place had the greatest black bean burgers I've ever had the pleasure of scarfing.

BUT my prediction finally came to pass. Check out today's Thrillist. I can't wait to check it out and thank them for following through.

I'm considering my future in fortune telling. Thoughts? Oh wait, I already know...you're right, it IS an amazing idea!

Kisses! More soon, I promise. Easter baking, anyone?


"Lemon Tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet...

...but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat!" -Peter, Paul & Mary, "Lemon Tree"

PP&M must have had some sour run-ins with citrus fruits, (pun intended...) but I don't have enough good things to say about OUR lemon tree, planted handily years ago by people with the foresight to know someday David and I would be able to use it. For good, not evil, in case you were wondering.

So. Last Friday night (I'm a little behind here) we had a dinner party at the house with a couple of my coworkers and their hubbies. I decided on a Mediterranean theme because 1) a few of my fave recipes are some type of Mediterranean; 2)there are a lot of vegetarian options for Michelle; and 3) it would give us a bunch of opportunities to use our lemons!

I made my mom's tabouli salad, complete with cherry tomatoes from one of D's tomato bushes and fresh lemon juice ze aforementioned tree. Mr. David made some lovely roasted veggies, as well as my mom's hummus (again with lemon juice-those suckers were juicy). Mom's hummus is that against which I judge all others (other hummi?) so watch out before you serve me some mashed chickpeas and tahini, know what I'm sayin'?
My challenge in this meal was coming up with a dessert. I would have loved to try my hand at baklava, but didn't feel like figuring out a vegan alternative for phyllo dough. Plus, those lemons...I decided to make a simple lemon sandwich cookie, vegan style. Why sandwich cookies? I just think they are fun to make-for all ages!-AND pretty to look at.

Trolling around online, I found a surprisingly simple-looking Martha Stewart lemon cookie recipe. It didn't take much to turn it vegan (or as close as I know how--I cannot figure out whether confectioner's sugar is vegan! I've read that Whole Foods brand sugars are, but then when we went, there was one container of granulated in the 365 brand that was specifically marked "Vegan Sugar." Michelle, when you read this can you enlighten me?)

The cookies call for zest in both the cookie (essentially a butter cookie) and filling (cream cheese). I love the smell and taste that zest lends to dishes, but upon completion I felt like there was not enough of a lemon PUNCH in the taste. So, I squeezed some of that lovely fresh lemon juice into a bowl of more confectioner's sugar and made an icing. I drizzled it over the cookies and threw them in the fridge to harden a little before serving.

I used a small flower-shaped cookie cutter for these. I find that bite-sized sandwich cookies are the perfect size--and then you don't feel guilty about taking seconds (and thirds)! Also, you'll notice the recipe call for sprinkled granulated sugar before baking the cookies. I happened to have some gold sanding sugar on hand so I used that instead, which made for a nice effect on the flowers!

Ready for the recipe? OK, I guess you've been good...here you go!

Vegan Lemon Sandwich Cookies
From marthastewart.com

1 cup Earth Balance or other butter substitute, room temperature
1 cup vegan confectioners' sugar*
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for rolling
2 tablespoons vegan granulated sugar, for sprinkling*
1 package (4 ounces) Tofutti (or similar) vegan cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
1 to 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter, confectioners' sugar, lemon zest, and salt until combined. With mixer on low, add flour (dough will still be stiff); finish mixing with a wooden spoon.
Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, pat into a disk about 1/2 inch thick.

Wrap, and chill until firm, about 1 hour (and up to 3 days).

Unwrap dough; place on a lightly floured piece of parchment or waxed paper. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough about 1/8 inch thick (if dough cracks, let it warm up slightly).

Cut out cookies with a 1 1/2-inch round cutter (reroll scraps once, chilling if too soft). Place 1 inch apart on two baking sheets; sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake until barely beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes; transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

In a small bowl, mix cream cheese and zest until smooth. Gradually add 1 cup confectioners' sugar, mixing until smooth. Mix in remaining sugar as necessary to create a firm but spreadable filling.

Form sandwiches: Place about 1 teaspoon filling between two cookies, sugared sides facing out; squeeze gently.

*can be found at Whole Foods or similar grocery/health foods store


A Brief Monologue about Tea

In my quest to find a nice mainstream go-to tea retailer, CB&Tea Leaf continues to win me over above Starbucks and their crap Tazo Tea line. Unfortunately, S'bucks is sort of like that guy that you KNOW you should stop calling because every time you do, you're reminded of how very self-involved he is and why you've been avoiding him for the past three months, but then in the fourth month you sort of forget and decide to call and see how he's doing.

This morning was my fourth month, metaphorically speaking. I decided to give the big S another try and purchased a Grande Soy London Fog Latte...and managed about 5 sips. Alas, adding milk to bad tea just makes for bad tea lattes. Give it up, guys.

Tea Leaf (that friend who's always been there for you, even though you've been blind to see it) has really started with the wooing of late. Oh Raspberry Ceylon Latte, I go to sleep with your sweet taste still on my lips...

Going To Our First Food Lecture (and other signs I am getting old)

Last night we went to an udderly fascinating lecture at the Skirball about the possibility of authenticity in cooking. (Pardon the udder pun, but you'll get it when you read through the link.)

This was a FREE event, as part of the Zocalo (public square in Spanish) Lecture Series. For the life of me, I don't remember how I came upon it to begin with, but suffice to say, as soon as I saw Jonathan Gold on the docket as moderator, I knew I had to go. By the way, you may have noticed I mention Jonathan Gold in basically every one of my posts. This does not make me a crazy stalker. When I start posting wide-angle lens shots of him doing various private things in his home you can start to worry.

I knew there would be some heavy hitters of the LA food world there, but didn't really pay attention to who was on tap. Lo and behold, the first two people JG introduced were Nancy Silverton and Jimmy Shaw--the creators of Campanile/Mozza and Loteria Grill, respectively. I wrote last year about Pizzeria Mozza and its magical powers, but haven't gotten around to waxing poetic about Loteria. It is worthy of a full post, but until then just know that it is kickass!

I don't think the question of food authenticity was ever really answered last night (and don't think that it really can be--it's a totally subjective thing), but learning about each chef's path to creating the regional food that each of them brings to their respective kitchens was fascinating.

Silverton spoke first, and quickly acknowledged being the only impostor on the panel--a Jewish chick from the Valley who specializes in Italian cuisine. However, it was her experiences living, cooking and eating in Umbria (I think), among other areas of Italy, that spoke most to her and caused her to start her mini-empire. (She announced last night that they are opening both an Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza in SINGAPORE of all places. Now it's starting to really look like an empire...)

Jimmy Shaw looks like a white guy from Southie, but turns out he spent his formative years in Mexico City. He explained to us how difficult it was coming to LA, with all of its CalMex and TexMex restaurants, but no truly Mexican cuisine restaurants. He said the idea of going into a Mexican place and seeing "carne asada" on the menu is the equivalent of going to a steakhouse and just seeing "charred meat" on the menu. What are you actually getting? What cut of meat, etc? How is it prepared? His version of authenticity is borrowing from all of the regional Mexican cuisines that he knew as a boy--he claimed that it is the Americans who sometimes complain about the food, saying it's not 'authentic, whereas visiting Mexicans always visit his restaurant before any others for a taste of home.

Roy Choi was third. He looked to be about our age, and wore a black Dodgers pulled down almost over his eyes. Before he was introduced, I have to say I was wondering what the heck he was doing up there. This is the man behind the Korean taco truck. I had read tidbits here and there about it, but after hearing about the mad scene that surrounds whatever neighborhood said truck lands in each night, I can't wait to experience the madness firsthand. The idea of the trucks come from Roy's own view of authenticity. A totally Americanized (his words) Korean who has spent a lot of time in LA's Koreatown, like Shaw he realized that the Korean food people were getting was nothing like the Korean food one would get IN Korea. He coupled that idea with an ultimate LA enterprise--the taco truck--and in a short time KoGi BBQ was born. OK, there is more to it than that, but check out the very first link in this post to get the rest. Apparently the truck (or trucks--I think there are two) has only been around for a few months. As more and more people tried it, and got location updates via Twitter, the crowds each night grew. Talk about a viral phenomenon--so cool. Needless to say, today I signed up for a Twitter account and I think I am already a little addicted. Thanks A LOT, KoGi BBQ. You've ruined me.

Last up was Sirintip "Jazz" Singsanong, owner of Jitlada Thai in East H'wood. I've actually never heard of the place, and it appears that up until a few years ago, that was a good thing! When Jazz and her brother took over the restaurant, they kept the name, which at first meant they were not very popular. The original Jitlada was known for middling-to-bad Americanized Thai--when the Singsanongs took over, they wanted to bring a taste of what they knew as Thai food. Specifically, the food that was cooked within their family in Southern Thailand. This regional cooking is apparently quite different from what we know as Thai food...but no one even knew they were making it! The Southern Thai specialties on the menu were only listed in Thai. It took an out-of-towner with a minimal background in the language glimpsing the menu by chance and realizing that he didn't recognize any of the dishes listed. With some help from Jazz's brother, he translated this menu, which made the rounds through the food blogs. The rest is history.

I think that the devout following of these restaurants is proof that a clear vision of your cuisine, coupled with creativity and WoM, is a major key to culinary success. Each of these chefs authenticate their own food histories in their dishes, and in turn all of us who experience it open our eyes to whole new universes of what authentic means to each one of us. If nothing else, these chefs represent authentic Los Angeles cooking and the melting pot that is this city.

Here are handy-dandy links to all the above-mentioned restaurants again:

Campanile (beautiful place with GRILLED CHEESE THURSDAYS)

Mozza (with links to the fancier Osteria and more casual Pizzeria)

Loteria Grill






Year of the Cocktail

After reading Jonathan Gold's article today, "The New Cocktailians," I am both humbled and thirsty. Just wanted to share.

Anyone want to check out The Varnish with me this weekend?

In the spirit of this post, I'd like to add an addendum. There was a great article in the food section of the LA Times this week talking about kumquats, which apparently are at their tastiest this month. As they always do, at the end they included some recipes, including one for a Candied Kumquat Mojito.

Candied kumquat mojito

Note: From Peter Birmingham at Norman's, where the drink is made with Ron Matusalem Platino rum. Birmingham also recommends Bacardi Silver or Cruzan Estate Light rum. You'll have enough simple syrup and candied kumquats for up to 12 drinks.

Candied kumquats

1 cup boiling water

1 cup sugar

12 whole kumquats

1 stalk lemongrass, ends trimmed and two outer layers removed, slightly smashed with the side of a chef's knife

1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water

1. Add the boiling water to the sugar. Stir to mix and dissolve the sugar, cool.

2. Bring a pot of water to boil. Blanch the kumquats for 1 minute, drain.

3. Place the sugar water, lemongrass and orange blossom water in a bowl. Add the kumquats, placing a small plate on top to submerge the kumquats. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up until 3 weeks.

Simple syrup

3/4 cup boiling water

3/4 cup sugar

Add the boiling water to the sugar. Stir to mix and dissolve the sugar. Cool.

Cocktail (per serving)

6 mint leaves

3/4 ounce (5 teaspoons) simple syrup, divided

1 candied kumquat

4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

2 ounces rum

1 tablespoon pineapple juice

1 wedge lime

Splash club soda

1. In a double old-fashioned glass, muddle the mint with one-fourth ounce (two teaspoons) simple syrup. Add the candied kumquat and muddle. Add ice to glass.

2. In a cocktail shaker, mix together the lemon and lime juices, the remaining one-half ounce (about 3 teaspoons) simple syrup, the rum and pineapple juice. Shake well. Pour into the glass, add the wedge of lime and splash of club soda.

Each serving: 200 calories; 0 protein; 19 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 3 mg. Sodium.



In Bloom

It's been a chilly couple of days out here, but I'm still warm and cozy from a lovely dinner Tuesday night with Mr. D. There was no occasion for it, other than the desire to spend a little special time together.

I am usually hesitant to try any restaurant that sticks menus in mailboxes. Why would someone do that unless they were desperate? However, as one who loves reading anything food-related, I always glance through before trashing it, and one day I was really glad I did. We’d noticed Bloom, a brightly colored storefront at Pico and Hauser, many times since moving and often commented that we should check it out. When we got THAT menu, their claim of cooking with locally grown organic foods, combined with some really unique and tasty-sounding offerings totally hooked me. Before heading out, I read some reviews online that only made me more excited!

I read on a couple different sites that Bloom didn’t have a liquor license, but DID have BYO, AND no corkage fee. The latter is sort of revolutionary in LA. Why places feel ok with charging $25 to unscrew a cork is completely beyond me. But I digress. Since we’ve been trying to be ‘better’ (ie, more frequent) wine drinkers (hopefully in the hope of becoming aficionados rather than lushes), I thought it would be fun to take along a bottle we had picked up at Cost Plus. (On a side note, David found this website that lists cheap-to-no corkage fees in LA restaurants--seems like a pretty new site, but it could be a neat resource down the road. If you know of places with low cork fees, you can submit!)

One of my favorite things about the restaurant, before even stepping foot inside, was that it is walking distance from our house. You just don't get that very much in this city! I don't think I would make that walk by myself after dark--in spite of beautification efforts, Pico Blvd is still very rough around the edges--but with David, it was a nice (safe) little adventure.

The restaurant is divided into two sections--on the right side is the restaurant, with about 12 tables; the left side appears to be a take-out/juice bar deal, although I don't think it's open at night. The whole place was pleasantly dim, and we were greeted immediately by the man who turned out to be the waiter. He opened our wine as a busboy brought us wine glasses and cucumber-infused water (so refreshing!) and we perused the menu.

One thing I read about this place was that the pizzas were awesome, so we decided to find one of those to split, along with another dish. It didn't take us long to agree on the Rosemary Comte Cheese Potato. The salads here are outside the norm in a very good way--more than your standard Caesar, Cobb or spinach-and we finally settled on the Spicy Free Range Chicken Salad, with baby greens, poblano chile, roasted corn (I think David hogged all of that--corn:David::spinach::Popeye) and sundried tomato-red chili vinaigrette. I also got a cup of the Vegan Soup of the Day, butternut squash. Such a sucker for pureed vegetable soups!

First the soup. It had a nice squash flavor, but needed something more to round out the overall profile. Table salt didn't do the trick--I think my standbys allspice or nutmeg would have been particularly effective.

There are no complaints about flavor with the salad. The dressing added a good kick to the generous portion of greens and (delicious) chicken. The pizza, too--I am not too familiar with Comte cheese, but it is creamy and very mild, and complemented the razor thin slices of potato beautifully. There was no one glaring flavor on this pizza--even the rosemary seemed to be a subtle infusion rather than the leading lady, as is so often the case by the mere fact that it's a strong herb.

Throughout our meal, there's little doubt that part of our enjoyment came from the wine. We are still green in the whole wine game and even more so in our experience with reds, but we lucked out with this Cabernet. I won't try to explain it because my palate isn't sophisticated enough to detect individual fruits and chocolates and herbs like some can--suffice to say it went down easy, warmed our bellies, and widened the smiles on our faces just a little bit.

The food was so lovely that I was tempted to opt out of dessert...even the best of restaurants can be hit or miss with that portion of the meal, you know? My hesitation disappeared, though, when he listed the amazing-sounding ice creams and sorbets they had. We decided on a bowl of the brown sugar vanilla bean. Oh. My. Goodness. Heaven in my mouth.

The bill was wonderfully affordable (my, do I love BYOB!) and we left arm in arm, thrilled that we had found such a great neighborhood restaurant to call our own.

That's all for now, folks! Tune in next time when I wax poetic about our lemon tree....