19 December, 2008
My boyfriend and I celebrated our holiday dinner together earlier than Christmas Eve, since we were going to be apart on the 24th. Being the special night that it was, we decided to make the menu special as well. I am quite lucky to have someone who like me, thoroughly enjoys cooking and crafting in the kitchen. I thought I would share some of our romantic successes from our evening, and perhaps inspire you to dust off that old cookbook and opt for a home-cooked appetizer or side dish for your parent's Christmas Eve dinner rather than the bag of chips and hummus you typically bring.
APPETIZER: Baked Brie with Blackberry Preserves
This is a very simple recipe that doesn't require many ingredients or effort. Go to your local Trader Joe's market (if you live in S. Cal.) or upscale grocery store and find a whole wheel of Brie cheese. Next, find one container of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls in the deli section. Finally, select high quality and all-natural preserves. Choose a fruit flavor that isn't too sweet or doesn't have lots of added sugars, such as blackberry or raspberry. Unroll the crescent roll dough flat onto a cooking sheet into a square shape, and place the wheel of brie in the center of the dough. Add a layer of the fruit preserves, completely covering brie. Wrap the pieces of dough around and over the cheese and preserves, sealing both as best as possible from the air. Add nuts as decor on top of the pastry, or scramble an egg and brush the scrambled egg onto the top of the pastry for a shiny touch. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the top of the pastry is golden brown. And voila! An easy and wonderful appetizer (AND dessert, if there is any leftover after dinner).
APPETIZER: Stuffed Mushrooms with Cream Cheese & Bacon
2 small cartons of white mushrooms
1 block of cream cheese
5 strips of bacon
Open the block of cream cheese to soften at room temperature for 20 minutes. Fry bacon in a pan to a crisp. Drain bacon strips on paper towels and set aside.
Wash mushrooms one at a time and remove the stem carefully so that you are left with an unbroken mushroom cap. Set aside. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Take crisp bacon strips and fold them into a paper towel. Use a mallet or blunt object to crush the bacon strips into small bacon bits. Combine bacon bits with softened cream cheese in a medium bowl. Add garlic powder to taste (add freely, but don’t overdo it!). With your hands, combine all three ingredients until they are well blended (the hands work easiest as opposed to a spoon or fork with the dense cream cheese).
Take small amounts of cream cheese and individually stuff each mushroom cap. Place stuffed mushrooms onto a cookie sheet, and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, increase heat to BROIL, and remove the mushrooms from the oven and place into your oven’s broiler FOR NO MORE THAN 5 MINUTES to brown the tops of the stuffing. Check on the mushrooms carefully during this time so that they do not burn.
And voila!! Best served hot or warm. They can easily be microwaved as well.
APPETIZER or MAIN DISH: Bacon Wrapped Scallops
5-10 U/10 Fresh Scallops ("U/10" means that fewer than 10 scallops equal 1 lb)
5-10 strips of bacon
1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
Fry the bacon in a medium pan over medium heat, but remove the bacon just prior to being completely cooked (bacon should still appear pink and be flexible). Remove excess bacon grease from the pan, leaving a coating of bacon fat. Wrap the bacon strips around each scallop and secure with a toothpick. Gently place each wrapped scallop onto the pan and sear over medium heat for 2-3 minutes on each side of the scallop. Remove from the pan and lightly sprinkle each side of each scallop with pepper flakes to taste. These are best eaten warm.
SIDE-DISH: Truffle Mac n Cheese
This recipe is not for the faint of heart in the kitchen, BUT I PROMISE YOU... if you invest the time and energy into making this, YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT... Follow the recipe here, BUT NOTE THE FOLLOWING SUBSTITUTIONS:
1) For fancy-pants Mac n Cheese, substitute Elbow Macaroni for Small Shells Pasta.
2) For fancier-pants Mac n Cheese, use 8 tablespoons (or 1 block) of unsalted butter.
3) For super-fancy-pants Mac n Cheese, use Raw Milk Cheddar (1 lb), fresh Gruyere (4 oz.) and fresh Fontina (4 oz.) cheeses.
4) Finally, for the ultimate fanciest-of-pants Mac n Cheese, add 1 tablespoon of White Truffle Oil at the same time that you add the cold milk.
SERIOUSLY! YOU WILL NOT REGRET THE TIME AND EFFORT... That's all I have to say about that.
Like I've said before, there's nothing like a home-cooked dish that really shows your holiday love, cheer and spirit. And with appetizers and side-dishes like these, you are sure to win the "Best Holiday Dish of 2008" kudos from your family. Just be prepared to aim higher next holiday season. No more naughty store-bought appetizers or side dishes for you!!!
15 December, 2008
There's nothing like the chill in the air to bring out the appetite in all of us. With the holiday season in full swing, one of my favorite ways of spending time with friends right before all of the family holiday fun is to brunch. Brunching with friends is the perfect way to celebrate in the middle of the day when you still have some energy and without imposing on anyone's evening holiday plans.
One of the best locations for brunch in the L.A. area is Tart. Located in what used to be a rinky-dink motel now transformed into the kitschy Bo-Ho Chic Farmer's Daughter hotel, Tart offers the perfect amount of sweet to compliment the winter bitter. There is a small indoor dining area, but if you can brave the cool air, sitting outside is the best option (especially under beautiful So. Cal. skies).
The breakfast/brunch menu features a number of tasty traditions with eggs, but not to be underestimated are the flapjacks. Light and fluffy and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar, you might forget about the protein on your plate and concentrate on these pillows of goodness. Feel free to try one of their five variations of flapjacks. Or all five.
Other brunch options include a three-cheese omelet with gruyere, aged cheddar and jack cheeses, or my personal favorite, the California omelet, made with avocado, green chiles, white onions and Sonoma jack cheese. So simple and yet so delicious, just like your mimosa, you might order a second omelet... for more energy for shopping, and in a to-go box, of course.
For those who prefer eating closer to lunch over breakfast, the Twisted BLT is a great way to begin your afternoon. The generous hickory smoked bacon strips and fried egg make this hybrid BLT a brunch item. And the butter on the bread will perk your taste buds up about as much as the coffee (and bacon, for that matter).
Got the in-laws coming into town and don't feel like waking up at 6am to start making 10 people another buffet? Take them to Tart! At least you might be able to take them across the street to the Grove shopping area after brunch and lose them in the crowd for a couple hours... Happy Holidays!!
09 December, 2008
Oh yes, it's that time of year again, when the number of people trying to park in one shopping mall seems to rival the population of China. The perpetual headache and stiff shoulders from carrying too many bags is enough to make you take a sick day at work. Or perhaps you are one of those smarties who decided to buy your gifts online but are now realizing that you have only two more weeks to shop (yes, you read that correct, literally 15 more days), and you can't bear the thought of late gifts. You are now FORCED to enter the Death Star called the Apple Store and Nordstrom.
I am here with good news: there are a number of incredible oases of refreshment come to save your shopping soul and keep your festive spirits alive after the chaotic fight for parking and bargain hunting.
On the very Westside, check out Primitivo's Happy Hour (M-Th) for some great tapas and excellent wines. The calamari is crisp but light, not overly battered or fried. For a slightly healthy (I say "healthy" to mean it's green colored only), try the Romaine Salad with Shaved Parmesan. The romaine lettuce is actually grilled and served warm, an interesting twist to the mundane leafy roughage. Wash your nibbles down with $4 wines, sangria and beer. If you can't resist all the teasing, stay for dinner and keep your eyes out for daily specials, featuring excellent and hearty dishes such as Rack of Lamb, Duck Confit or a buttery Foie Gras that you will never forget... I still haven't forgotten.
If you're coming from the Century City mall or the Beverly Center, try Chaya Brasserie's Happy Hour from 5-8pm everyday. Their HH menu includes half-priced appetizers, such as the Hawaiian Tuna Tartar, which melts in your mouth, or the tender Kobe Beef Carpaccio that will make you order a second or third after trying the first order. Drink specials vary during HH.
Finally, for the Eastsiders, there is a Monday Special (exclusively on Mondays) at Citizen Smith on the fun Cahuenga Corridor, featuring half price for all food. Yes, you read that correct, 50% off of ALL FOOD on Mondays. Citizen Smith has perfected comfort food for the chic. If you try nothing else, order the Mac and Cheese... You'll forget all about the screaming kids and the guy who cut you off to steal your parking spot earlier in the day, and indulge in the cheesy piece of heaven. If your shopping extravaganza has built up even more of an appetite, try the Country Fried Chicken. It will make you forget that other fried chicken place with the old man on the sign. They even feature live jazz to serenade you with your tasty eats and your on-sale Marc Jacobs bag that you bought for yourself. It's the perfect way to kill you softly this holiday season.
At least you'll be covered for 3 of the 15 remaining shopping days!
05 December, 2008
Remember the day that the Prohibition was lifted in the United States? Hopefully you don't, and if you do, you definitely deserve a drink for being over the age of 75. December 5, 1933 marked the ratification of the 21st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which repealed and reversed the 18th Amendment, also known as the Prohibition Act that made it illegal to sell, manufacture and transport alcohol. Thankfully one of our nation's most hailed fearless leaders, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had the good sense to turn this totally lame bootleg law around, and of course, allowed the repeal to benefit the economy with a little thing called Liquor Tax.
Well today is your day to celebrate that blessed act by our 32nd president by imbibing a bit yourself! UrbanDaddy shared the spirit of Repeal Day with a little hot secret for December 5 from 11am - midnight. The fun is happening at WeHo's Comme Ça : give the bartender the secret password, "18A (eighteen-A)" and receive a 75 cent Throwback Surprise, likely an Old Fashioned like a Bourbon Highball, a Manhattan or a Harvey Wallbanger. Limit one discounted drink per person per visit while the alcohol lasts.
Check out the L.A. Times' list of bars also participating in the debauchery.
So get yourselves out of work early to celebrate one of the best and yet least known national holidays. At least in this day and age, the only thing you might be pouring into the streets is your previously consumed alcohol.
04 December, 2008
As much as I love food and wine and trying new cuisines, I admit that I am still a bit of a chicken to eat just about anything without prior knowledge of it, or better yet, a good whiff of it. Thus, I introduce to you my finicky cheese tastes. When it comes to the stinky stuff, I usually let my nose guide me, and the stinkier the cheese, the more my stomach churns. However, my palate has matured enough to realize that not everything that comes from or with mold is inedible (SOME things, but not everything). And to a cheesy chooser like myself, there could be no bigger blessing and compassionate help than the good folks at Cube.
Located on La Brea just south of Melrose, you might drive right past the little cafe without giving it a second thought. Once the location of a number of fab but flopped eateries, Cube Cafe and Cheese Bar has found a cozy home in one of the best cross-sections and main streets in L.A. between West Hollywood, Fairfax, Hancock Park... you get the picture. Cube is the perfect combination of unpretentious class and simple yet elegant undauting presentation.
Upon entering the brightly colored cafe, you are drawn to the various food items they sell in their market area along the walls of the main dining room. Their cuisine is mostly Italian, as you will see by the various pastas, sauces, marinades, jarred foods, and wines. Lots of wines. However, there's no way to miss the long cheese bar in the center of the cafe with various blocks of cheese. Behind the bar is a well-informed cheese and salumi expert who gently steered my picky palate in the right direction towards a mild and absolutely buttery gruyere and delicate cow's cheese infused with lavender and espresso, appropriately called "Barely Buzzed". Check out their weekly varying cheese list before indulging. Be prepared, though, to spend more than your local grocery prices per ounce for this good stuff.
The lunch and dinner menu include local fare mixed with Italian traditions. Lucky for you and your wino friends, there is a great wine list (sorry, there is NOW a corkage fee of $12, but their Italian wines are quite good). So feel free to bring your own bottle of ol' faithful vin préféré. But what makes Cube the best little neighborhood bistro has to be the cheese... it's gotta be the cheese. Spike Lee would agree.
**Update 12/9/2008: there is a corkage fee of $12 now that Cube sells its own wine.
03 December, 2008
First off, my apologies for starting off with a bang and then fading to a fizzle with the blog updates. In the midst of the holiday chaos, I also had to contend with moving from one apartment to another. There's nothing like moving residences to remind you that you own too much crap, and make you want to donate all of it and live from the earth free from those possessions that keep you stressed out during their transport by strangers who work for a moving company... but I digress.
Earlier in November, I shared my exciting experiment for Thanksgiving to deep-fry a Turducken (a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken). First, let me state that all of the work and effort for a turducken dinner are worth it. Secondly, be prepared for the costly out-of-pocket of approximately $100 as well as the exclusive distribution in specialty stores like Gelsons and Whole Foods. Lastly, preparing the turducken is no easy task, especially if you want it deep fried Southern style.
Deep fried turkey has become the new big holiday trend, to the dismay of many a firefighter. The ease to deep frying a turkey (when fried properly) is due to the fact that deep fried turkeys are cavernous inside, and thus, the heat from the oil can easily penetrate and thoroughly cook the turkey. However, stuffing that turkey with even more raw and dense meat can only mean that deep frying the stuffed turkey in its entirety is a recipe for bacterial disaster. And I must admit that I owe this chemistry/physics/biology explanation to my partner in crime, JWen... he's the one that realized we couldn't just throw the entire stuffed turkey into the boiling oil.
What's the solution? Well we very carefully unwrapped what appeared to be a surgically cross-stitched turkey "chassis" and removed the duck and chicken breasts to fry them separately. Doing this would ensure that they were just about completely cooked prior to being put back into their turkey chassis and recooked while the outer turkey meat fried. The result was a crispy and tender turkey shell, and juicy turkey meat with a moist center of delicious dark duck meat and light chicken breast. Check out the yummy pictures!
After carving up the turkey meat, the juicy center filling of duck and chicken are left to pillage.
This year's Turducken Trifecta Trial was a true triumph and success! The meal was paired with a delicious homemade cranberry sauce (make your own by following this easy recipe here), a great boxed stuffing recipe that was kicked up ONE HUNDRED NOTCHES by adding sausage (experiment with this one - you can do it!) as well as a homemade Chocolate Pecan Pie (try Emeril's version here). And the best part is, all of these items can have one more go-round in just 3 weeks! Yes, you heard me right - you have exactly 3 weeks until Christmas Eve. My advise would be experiment at home with the side dishes before that big holiday family dinner, and go BALLS OUT with a turducken!!! ("Balls out" is a technical term, by the way...)
Happy Holidays to you and yours, and best of luck in the kitchen (and in the backyard with the deep fryer)!