Archive for the food Category

Last night, we ate at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. We don’t generally like to go out on Monday nights, but this was the night Rustic Canyon was having their seasonal beer pairing dinner. And it was worth it.

The dinner pairs six beers with four savory courses and a dessert. Here’s the set menu.

The first beer was basically a lambic, but brewed in the US, and without fruit: Jolly Pumpkin from Oro de Calabasa. Despite the name of the beer and the brewery, there was, thankfully, no squash involved. It was light, and served alone. This was pretty good – nice and fresh, and, as described by the beer sommelier, Christina, a good palate cleanser.

Then the food started. The bacon en croute looked very small and unassuming. But biting in made all the difference. Imagine a juicy chunk of soft bacon surrounded with flaky, moist dough, with rough salt on top. My friend Joe likened it to a high-end pig in a blanket. It was basically a juicy bite of bacon goodness. I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture.

The bacon en croute was served with Black Orchard Wit from The Bruery. This was a dark wheat beer apparently, brewed in Upland. Frankly, although I like other beers from The Bruery, this one didn’t really do anything for me. It did a nice job of standing up to the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon without competing, but I’m not sure I’d go out of my way for it. I’d had the Orchard White before (at Father’s Office) and I liked it a lot, so I’m game for more from the Bruery – I might need to take a field trip down there.

The second food course was the persimmon, fig and fennel salad. I’m just recently starting to like persimmon, but this wasn’t like anything I’d had before. It was sliced thin and it was crunchy, almost like a green papaya salad at a Thai restaurant. In any event, the salad was very unexpected and delicious. But even better, the beer with this was from Browerij Bosteels in Belgium. It was their Tripel Karmeliet, and the information from Rustic Canyon said it was voted the best ale in some London tasting recently. It was amazing. I had three glasses. Monks don’t brew it anymore, apparently, but the recipe is 400 years old. This was the best beer of the bunch – similar to a Chimay Tripel (which seems to be part of the same brewery, maybe?) but better.

Then came the pumpkin ravioli, bathed in a brown butter sage sauce. Heavenly. And pretty good with the beer, even though the beer was, frankly, a little one dimensional. The Green Flash Nut Brown Ale was better than, say, Newcastle, but in the same ballpark. For this course, it was all about the pasta. For homemade dough, it was surprisingly rigid and really kept its form and had a nice bite. And it’s hard to not like pasta swimming in good butter.

So then came the main course – the duck confit. Crispy skin, juicy, fatty meat. Really incredible. I had a duck confit over at Comme Ca recently and it didn’t hold a candle to this. The veggies with it were fine, but the duck itself here was sensational. And the beer with this course was a winner also: Reserve, from Abbaye Binchoise (can’t find a link for the brewery). So maybe I have a weakness for Belgian beer, but this was another great one.

OK, so how do you finish a beer pairing menu with a dessert beer? You might think a chocolate beer would be the ticket, but Rustic Canyon went a different direction and finished with a chocolate cake, a plate of cookies (really good ones – gingerbread, shortbread, and lemon squares) and a beer that was finished in Jim Beam casks to give it a whisky-like flavor. That worked surprisingly well – and I had doubles of this one. The beer was Curieux from a brewery in Maine called Allagash.

I’m trying to figure out where to buy some of these beers in LA. The three I’m interested in are the two Belgians and the Allagash. They really floored me.

So after eating lots of wine pairing menus over the years, I finally found a beer menu. As much as I like wine, I’m not generally bowled over by how well it pairs with certain foods, nor am I really able to identify flavors as carefully as many. It’s not that I don’t like wine with food – quite the contrary – it’s just that I don’t usually recognize as much of a symbiosis between wine and food as I did last night with beer and food. And I feel like the range of wines typical in pairings like this just doesn’t go nearly as far as this went. Usually, you get some white, some red, and some sparkling wine. The breadth of different flavors in these beers just went further – and clearly, there are a lot more possibilities out there. And one of my least favorite types of beer – IPA – was totally absent.

I’ll definitely be going back to Rustic Canyon for another beer pairing menu. It sounds like they have one each season, but the winter one might be a bit late since the woman in charge, Christina, has a book coming out, and that’s taking up her time. But, if I can get four of these a year, one in each season, I’ll be there.

This guy really nailed it – you’ve gotta check out his post (and the pictures are pretty good too). I don’t think I’ll be able to keep from laughing next time I’m there . . .

Salumi Cured Meats – Ordering Pork Online

I mentioned last week that I was awaiting a shipment from Salumi Cured Meats – Mario Batali’s father’s salumeria in Seattle. I was on the waiting list for four months (that’s right) and it finally arrived. I’m not sure which item held it up, but I think it was the guanciale.

I was a little surprised about how the shipment was packed. In my previous pork orders, the meat arrived in styrofoam boxes full of ice packs. The meat was cold each time. In this box, the meat was just wrapped in butcher paper, and stuck in the box, and shipped two-day. And mine arrived on a very hot day – I could smell the meat before I opened the box.

So I broke it open at work, and basically the meat was glistening from the melting fat. I ordered three products: the salumi salami, the finocchiona salami, and the guanciale. I haven’t used the guanciale yet.

We all gathered round and sliced into the salamis. First, we hit the salumi, and that remains my favorite. There is a big flavor of mellow garlic, and then a host of other spices that add a wonderful depth. On the website, they list ginger as one of these – that makes sense given the flavor. It’s hard to place overall, but it’s rich and delicious.

The finocchiona is also a great salami, but very different. This is a spicy log full of black pepper (cracked, but hardly) and fennel flavor – probably both pollen and seeds. It’s a very, very full flavor, and spicy enough that you can’t really taste whatever you eat next unless you give it a while.

So I’ll probably get on the list again for more salumi, and I’ll try some other logs next time. I’ll be back in four months with more – and I can’t wait to make a carbonara with the guanciale.

Did it – Pork Belly #1

It’s definitely a little scary to contemplate, but I did it. I cooked my first piece of pork belly.

I ordered from Niman Ranch, an eight pound slice of pork belly. It came as a super-flat, fatty slab. One side was solid white – not even a trace of meat there. In cross section, it was clearly the same cut as bacon.

So I cut it up into eight roughly even portions. I froze seven. One entered the fridge.

Last night I mixed kosher salt, a lot of fresh ground pepper, and some ground coriander seed, and then I rubbed it all over the piece in the fridge, and put it back in for the night.

Tonight, I roasted it. It’s definitely a work-in-progress, but it was pretty delish.

First, I heated a pan, added olive oil, and fried the top and bottom for about seven minutes each. Then I took the chunk out, and added some leeks, onions, carrots, garlic, potatoes, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Most recipes said I would toss the veggies later, but I figured I’d eat them. In the end, the recipes were right – only the leeks had any flavor left. So the potatoes were a waste, since they likely didn’t add anything to the flavor (maybe they thickened it a little? doubtful).

After the veggies were cooked down a bit, I nestled the pork belly back in, skin/fat side up. Then I poured some white wine in until it was about halfway up the meat, put a lid on it, and put it in a 325 degree oven for about two hours, basting it maybe every forty minutes.

Then, I scooped out all of the veggies (tried, really tried to eat them, but flavorless largely) and raised the temp to 450, and put the meat back in, higher in the oven, and no lid. I wanted a crispy top, but I didn’t quite get it.

When I took it out after about ten more minutes, the top had a beautiful golden color, and the fat that rendered made a thick sauce with the other pan remnants.

I cut the piece in two to give a hunk to my son. Then I plated and poured the pan drippings over top. Here’s how it looked:





Next piece: broil the top longer at the end to get something crispy happening. Maybe more flavor overall. Consider Asian spices: ginger, soy, miso, etc. Otherwise, clove and cinnamon could be good. Or dried fruits.

Main surprise: the overall sweetness of the food. I don’t know where it came from – maybe the onions – but it was just a really sweet piece of meat.

Ordering Pork Online

Maybe it’s because I was once a vegetarian (can’t even imagine that now) or maybe that I just want to get the economy moving again, but I’ve taken to ordering pork products online.

I first ordered from a place in Berkeley called Framani. They sell a line of sausages and salamis and related products. I ordered three packages of various sausages, which I haven’t tried yet. But I also got the dry salami and the chorizo.

The dry salami is pretty standard hard salami. It’s got a firm texture and a nice garlicky flavor. It’s good, but given the costs of ordering online with shipping, I’m not sure I’d run to get it again.

The chorizo, though, is really good. Firmer, still, than the salami, and with a lot more flavor of paprika and other spices. This is something I actually think about during the day, wanting to get home and have a slice. I’ll likely reorder or see if I can find it locally.

Next, I ordered from Niman Ranch. I’m more familiar with their meats since they often carry them at Trader Joe’s, and many local restaurants also feature them by name. I like that most of their beef seems to be grass-fed (although it’s hard to figure that out on the website). I also like that they at least claim their pork is “natural” although I’m not too sure that that means much, frankly.

I ordered some sausages (in the freezer for later) and a pork belly. This thing is a little scary. I knew what I was getting into, but it’s still going to take some work. I keep having it at restaurants, and it’s so delicious (with all of that fat, how could it not be?) that I’ve just wanted to try it myself. But I can’t find it locally, so I ordered.

As you can see from the cross section, it’s the same meat that would become bacon. This is just the raw version, skin on.

I bought about an eight pound piece, so I cut it up into eight individual pieces and froze seven. I’ll try to cook the first one this week and report back. I’m thinking of roasting it with dried cherries.

Finally, I have an order coming soon from Salumi Cured Meats. You might have heard of this place since it’s owned by Mario Batali’s father. Turns out, lots of people have heard of it. The waiting list is nuts. I ordered a guanciale and two salumi in January, and they’re just getting shipped tomorrow. I’ll report back on this – and then if it’s good, you’ve got to get your place in line, fast!

Tierra Miguel CSA Box Update

Just an update here on what I’ve been receiving from my Tierra Miguel Farms Community Sponsored Agriculture box. Frankly, I feel like it’s a little light this week considering the $40 price tag. It’s generally all very delicious (the strawberries this week are amazing, and the avocados last week were luscious). But I had the idea that starting in the Spring, I’d be getting more produce. Instead, the size has shrunk since the winter.

Here’s a pic of my latest box’s contents:

The include jar of honey looks pretty good . . . that’s the first time I’ve received something processed in my box.

Tried Holy Cow – Fast and Fresh

Holy Cow
8474 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Phone: (323) 852-8900

We were looking for something quick, local, and mostly veggie for dinner, so my wife came up with the idea of takeout from Holy Cow (3rd and La Cienega – in the minimall with Mishima and Kiwiberry). I’m not the biggest fan of takeout; I like to sit and relax, and I don’t like soggy food from containers, so Indian works pretty well. I can sit and the food can sit and not get soggy. Good combo.

This was our first time at Holy Cow. We’ll definitely go again.

The woman taking the phone order was nice, helpful, and clear. Unfortunately, they were out of several items we wanted, but with a good attitude from the woman, we basically didn’t mind.

We ordered four veggie entrees, plus raita, which was fine but nothing special. Of the four dishes, the weakest, surprisingly, was the dal. I often think of dal as the cheese pizza or the mu shu pork of Indian food – the standard dish that every place serves with their own flavor, and that gives you an idea of the quality and the seasonings of the restaurant. It was a red-herring here. It just wasn’t that great. Having eaten a lot of dal at a lot of restaurants, I’m guessing that theirs changes nightly or at least from time to time, so it may be worth another shot.

The other dishes were, frankly, great. Even from takeout containers. The spinach with garbanzo beans (channa sag) had a very fresh flavor, having likely been made from fresh spinach. Next, the tofu masala was in a wonderful red masala sauce that was reminiscent of a really good pasta sauce, again, with fresh vegetables. And the star of the show was the bharta – and I’m not even really a big fan of eggplant. But this is as must-get.

The nan was, well, nan-like.

Close to home, good service, and fresh, good food. No question, we’ll be back.

Recipe: Homemade Pasta

Making pasta at home is definitely time-consuming, but just as rewarding. The flavor and texture of the pasta can’t be beat, even by buying fresh pasta from a pasta store, in my opinion. Further, if you want to use quality, healthy ingredients (whole grain flour, organic eggs) you can. And then there’s the volcano aspect . . .

Pasta Volcano

Here’s the (easy) list of ingredients:

5 eggs
3 cups flour (up to half whole wheat)
1 T olive oil
1/2 t Salt 

Mound the flour on a clean surface and clear out a hole in the middle. Crack the eggs in the hole, add the salt and olive oil to the center, and start beating the egg with a fork. The edges of the volcano of flour will just work their way into the egg mixture. Once the mixture is pretty smooth, you might need to help the flour walls come in a little bit – just be careful to help from the highest peaks first. Once the fork isn’t really doing the trick, start kneading. After about five minutes of kneading, wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.

Using extra flour, roll out small chunks of the dough into large ovals about 1/4″ thick. Use a piece of dough about the size of a clementine, or a little larger, per oval. Use plenty of extra flour here to keep this from sticking.

Get out your trusty Imperia pasta machine. Roll the ovals through the bottom area starting at level 1 and going to levels 3 then 5, with about three passes through each size with each oval. If any weak spots or holes appear in the dough, just fold it over and keep rolling it through.

Then, flour the sheets again. Finally, you can roll them through the cutting areas, or cut the sheets manually to make other shapes. Tonight we made small rectangles, wet the middle, and folded them into bowties.

Recipe: Whole Wheat Crackers

I had been wanting to make some good flatbread or crackers to use under various crostini-like toppings. So I dug around and found a recipe by Mark Bittman that was pretty close. I modified it a bit, and I’ve made it several times. Here goes:

1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
2 T Butter
1 T Olive Oil
1 T Fresh Rosemary
1/2 T Sea Salt
1/4 Cup Water
Sea Salt

Basically, you put the first five ingredients in a food processor. Blend it a bit, adding water as needed. Get it so it sticks together, but in small pieces.

Roll it out very thin with a rolling pin, using extra whole wheat flour to keep it from sticking. Roll it down pretty thin – I try to get it under 1/4″ – even 1/8″. Then sprinkle it with good coarse sea salt (and some cracked pepper too, if you like), roll lightly over that to get the salt part way into the dough.

Use a pizza peel or similar. Once the dough in on the floured peel, score it with a dull knife so that it can break along those lines after it’s baked. Finally, bake on a pizza stone at 400 degrees for about ten minutes.

The best two toppings I made were a white bean purée with balsamic vinegar dribbled on top, and sauteéd greens and onions with chevré on top.

I can’t believe I didn’t get a picture, because they looked great! Next time . . .

Lunch in Telluride

I wrote first about our trip to Telluride, then about dinner in Telluride, and for my final post about the trip, here’s the skinny on lunch.

La Tapatia – The taco truck in town, about four blocks up Colorado from Oak, near the Ace Hardware. Living in LA, I get pretty good Mexican food, but this place is really, really solid. Everything I had, I’d recommend. Great for lunch if the weather is decent. We even got a whole mess of burritos for the plane ride home. The chicken is a stew, the veggies are full of real veggies, and the fish is freshly fried. Good stuff.

Fat Alley BBQ – Totally walkable from the ski runs, even in ski boots. It’s just a little up Oak Street from the bottom of the gondola and Chair 8. Great ribs and fries, but be sure to get the pulled pork sandwich. It’s huge, and it comes with cole slaw on it, plus a side (I went with the black beans and spinach, which I also enjoyed). My wife doesn’t eat meat, but even she did well there thanks to their supply of side orders.

Las Montañas – With no research at all (unlike me – I’m usually pretty good about digging around for restaurants when I travel, which, I guess, is why I write posts like this) we happened upon this place, just walking down Colorado. It was a good find. The chef here knows his stuff, and the place has a good vibe. We got an appetizer plate with queso fundido with chorizo (great), crab stuffed peppers (supposed to be spicy, and totally mild, but OK anyway) and I forget what the third item was, so it can’t have been that remarkable. The fundido was the star, along with my posole. Also, great chips and salsas. Can’t comment on the margaritas – as badly as I wanted one, I was skiing more that day and it didn’t seem prudent.

Some final restaurant notes are that if you need to eat lunch in Mountain Village, you should head to 9545 (gourmet-ish food in relatively small portions) or to Poachers (decent bar food – greasy and edible). Neither is as good as town, but they’re fine. Stay far, far away from the Crazy Elk pizza place. Tracks is OK, but just very mediocre. Coffee is pretty decent at the Telluride Coffee Company up there, and in town, the Steaming Bean makes good java, with a good attitude.