Well, I’m a lucky girl, indeed. The people in my life are far too kind and this is the third post this year where I get to say, “this was a gift from my friend.” My friend Tiff has struck again, bringing me Christmas cookbook joy, this time with Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen. YOU MUST GET THIS BOOK.
I’ve been a fan of Deb’s blog for a while now, and I was very excited about her book coming out. I’ve only had it for a month and I’ve already gotten chicken dinners, lemon bar desserts and glorious breakfasts out of it. The recipes aren’t complicated - no hunting down of special ingredients is necessary and you get oh-so-yummy meals. The operative word here is “easy.”
Her Greens, Eggs and Hollandaise recipe is so simple that I’ve decided it must become a Saturday morning staple. All you have to do is soften any mixture of greens you like - I’ve done a mixture of spinach, leeks and endive with fantastic results. Then soften some garlic with minced shallots in butter, add the greens, simmer with a touch of cream and spoon into some ramekins.
Then crack an egg or two on top and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until the whites are set.
Deb Perelman’s hollandaise recipe was easy, too. I always thought hollandaise sauce was too fancy to make. In my mind it existed in the same exclusive tier as pate, soufflés and escargot. Nope. Just put an egg yolk, a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of hot sauce in a blender and blend away. Then take 5 tablespoons of melted butter and slowly drizzle it into the blender until you get a creamy, pale yellow sauce. You can dollop this on top of your eggs right before serving.
It’s a fancy breakfast demystified. Thank you, Tiff! And thank you, Smitten Kitchen!
Take a good look at these lentils! They’re called french green lentils, but I think they’d be offended by the generalization. They’re a palette of navy, vermilion, black, yellow and burnt orange, and they were a very thoughtful Christmas present from my friend Wendy.
It would come as no surprise to learn that I think food-related gifts are the best gifts to give and receive. A dear friend once gave me a colander and a some assorted bowls she no longer needed and I think of her whenever I reach for them. When I receive a cookbook I get giddy. Even my family’s leftovers make me happy.
So when I peeped into the little bag Wendy gave me and found not only a jar of lentils but a recipe as well, I became rather happy indeed. Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Give this girl some lentils and a recipe, and she can make soup, eat soup, share soup, talk about soup, photograph soup, blog about soup then make soup again and again.
Wendy’s recipe is taken from the Barefoot Contessa herself, and I was excited to use some vegetable stock that I’ve been making frequently thanks to Tamar Adler. The stuff, I’m telling you, is liquid gold.
The original recipe yields more soup than I can eat in a week, so I halved it so as not to waste.
You will need:
- 1/2 lb french green lentils
- 2 cups chopped yellow onions (1 1/2 onions)
- 2 cups chopped leeks (white parts only)
- 1/2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
- 3/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tbsp fresh minced thyme
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 1/2 cups diced celery (4 stalks)
- 1 1/2 cups diced carrots
- 3 quarts chicken stock (or combination chicken or vegetable stock)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste (I cheated and used ketchup.)
In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and let sit for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and sauté the onions, leeks, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme and cumin. The moment the cumin hits your nose you might have the same realization I had - that’s what makes lentil soup taste so distinct! I cook with cumin all the time and never made the connection between the two. It was cumin all along! SPOILER ALERT: If lentil soup was The Usual Suspects, cumin would be sort of like Kevin Spacey - integral to the job and totally hiding in plain sight. Except that cumin doesn’t pull the wool over the soup’s eyes and no mugs get broken. Unless you’re accident-prone. I digress. The point is, cumin.
Once the onions and leeks become translucent, after about 10-15 minutes, add the celery and carrots and cook for another 10 minutes.
Add the stock, lentils and tomato paste (or ketchup). Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour.
The soup will reduce down and thicken rather nicely. To serve, top with a splash of vinegar, parmesan cheese and a bit of olive oil.
Thanks Wendy, for this hearty and delicious soup!
Happy New Year! My resolution for 2013 is based on a simple adage - waste not, want not.
I started this blog not because I could cook well, but because I couldn’t. It was something that I wanted to get so good at that it would become second nature to me. I think we only succeed when we challenge ourselves. I do it because it can be a bit hard, and because it’s that much more satisfying when I know I’ve made a good meal. I don’t believe, when it comes to intellectual challenges, that you’re born with any natural ability. It’s all in the way you cultivate your talent, whether it be cooking, writing, art, math, science, music…it’s all about practice and the work you put into it. It’s all about honing your craft and learning as you go.
Which brings me to Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, which was a gift from a dear friend. It isn’t so much a cookbook as it is a guide to eating well with what you have. She teaches you that a bone or onion peel has as much potential as the onion and the meat. Very little has to go to waste. I’ve learned a lot about ingredients and techniques over the past year, picking up tricks as I went along. But I was lacking in overall philosophy - I was missing the big picture until I read this book.
Armed with inspiration, I went to the farmers market to gather whatever fresh vegetables looked good to me. Per Tamar’s advice, I washed and prepared what I scored as soon as I got home, chopping the leafy tops off carrots, trimming the ends of bok choy and peeling and slicing an onion for future use. The cleaned, peeled vegetables and half the onion were tucked away in the fridge for future munching. The skins, peels and tops I would have normally tossed out were instead plopped in a pot. I also gathered whatever aromatic bits were lying around - the top of a tomato and some garlic skins.
Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, positive and delicious 2013!!!
The Pantry is a living monument in LA that has been able to withstand fleeting food trends and shaky economies. It’s a verifiable time capsule, not just in terms of appearances, but in the food itself. For example, go there and order the toast. You can get anything else you like, but trust me on this - get the toast. When you do you’ll soon realize that any toast you’ve had until this moment has been but a cheap imitation, a poor pantomime, a plasticized replica of toast. True TOAST is Pantry toast. Everything else is a lie.
They’re not going to give you a couple of insipid slices with butter on the side. Oh, no. They’re going to grab half a loaf of fresh bread, cut it into thick slices, and butter the hell out of them. Then they’re going to toast them so the buttered sides get crispy and brown. And then they’re going to serve it to you with more butter on the side. Do you need that extra butter? No. But do you want that extra butter? Yes, you do.
Whenever I’m given the option of sitting at a counter or a table at a restaurant, it’s the counter all the way. That’s where all the action is. You can watch and interact with the people who are feeding you that day. Even if it’s diner food, it’s still personal - there’s a person back there cooking for you.
Watching diner chefs who’ve been at it a long time is akin to watching a ballet of efficiency. Every night is both a performance and a rehearsal. They know all the steps and stage blocking. It’s a frenzied dance that’s been whittled down to a bare routine. The Pantry has been open since 1924 - the routine is perfect.
When you leave the Pantry you’ll notice the framed picture of past employees stretching back to the restaurant’s beginning. It’s on the wall across from the stand-alone kiosk where you pay for your meal. It’s a reminder that good, honest places endure. It’s a reassuring constant in a city where the shiny and new takes precedence over the tried and true.
I really wanted just a plate of straight-up salt, but that would have been shameless so I decided to make the second best thing I could think of - a plate of lots of different salty things to dip into other things.
My salty list of demands:
- Sliced baguette lightly buttered and broiled for a couple minutes
- roasted garlic for spreading
- kosher salt for sprinkling
- double-cream brie cheese for slathering
- olive oil + balsamic vinegar for dipping
- steamed artichoke
- mayonnaise for dipping
And this was lunch. I was clinging to the last of our warm, sunny days last weekend and this meal felt very picnic-worthy. I mashed that first clove of garlic onto the toast like it was some ancient, sacred ritual and made sure my salt placement covered every intended bite. Taking that first bite after an intense craving - I’m telling you right now - it was like manna from heaven. Man, I love salt.
Humans can’t have salt-licks because - gross. Or maybe there’s some sort of hamster-play sub-culture out there where this actually exists. I don’t judge. The point is, if you’re a salt junkie like me, this is a classy way to feed the need. You’ve got the olive oil, bread and artichoke to balance out the salty cheese, garlic and, well, salt. And you’ll still feel good about yourself after because it looks very presentable indeed.
Fish & Chips / Shrimp & Calamari @ Neptune’s Net, Malibu
At this biker hangout on the PCH, you pick your seafood and decide if you want it steamed or fried. The fry line is always longer than the steam line, but don’t come here for healthy eating. Come to enjoy the drive, the bikes, the weather and the view.
I know how to do mushrooms one way and one way only, and frankly, this is the only way I need. It’s not the healthiest method, but man is it the tastiest. The only tricks to this recipe - slice the mushrooms thin so they have a chance to crisp up and don’t crowd the pan.
I learned this method from my dad, whose specialty is folding these mushrooms into weekend-morning omelets. The butter makes everything salty and rich, and a surprise ingredient kicks it up a notch - brown sugar. You don’t need a lot, just enough to give it balance.
You will need:
- 1/2 lb button mushrooms
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp brown sugar
Wipe the mushrooms down with a damp paper towel and slice thin. In a large pan, melt the butter over medium heat and allow the white foam to subside until the butter is mostly clear. Add the mushrooms in an even layer and let them sit, without stirring, for 4-5 minutes.
Stir the mushrooms to flip most of them and sprinkle the sugar on top. Let sit for another 3-4 minutes, then stir and add pepper to taste. Stir a few times and let cook for a couple more minutes until the mushrooms turn a nice caramelized brown.
This makes for part of a decadent breakfast, a rich side dish over dinner or an indulgent snack on its own!