Turned On by Turon

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Miss World 2013 Megan Young pops by Chaaste Family Market. She looks better in a leather skirt than I do.

In many ways, Angelenos are quintessentially American by being quintessentially provincial. To be sure, Los Angeles is segregated by politics and wealth distribution and ethnicity, but it is also segregated by zones where people Just Won’t Go. Part of this is a logical response to the most mercurial traffic density in the Continental 48: a journey of five miles can range from anywhere between eight and eighty minutes to complete. So people settle into their zone. Some won’t venture east of the 405, some won’t travel south of the 10, or cross the “Orange Curtain” that divides California’s first and third most populous counties. Santa Clarita? Long Beach? You may as well be on Deimos or Phobos, my friends.

It’s only about 19 miles (or 30 kilometers) as the crow flies between the Westwood campus of UCLA and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (where their team plays its home games in men’s football). And — it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much — that’s about the only time (except for New Year’s, obvs) you’ll find a dedicated mass of people from Westwood struggling across town to visit said city.

But thanks to a friend’s medical appointment, I found myself in Pasadena, which is gorgeous even when it’s not hauling rose-festooned floats down its streets. It was also, until 10 days ago, the home of the late Jonathan Gold, the only food critic in American history to have won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. We never met, much to my dismay, even though he was friends with a number of our friends, and I’m sure we could have arranged an intro. And there was the time at the now-shuttered Corazón y Miel — a restaurant his column introduced to us — when the bride and I saw him sit down to a solitary Sunday meal and decided to let him dine in peace. That was also the day that I learned (thanks to his recommendation) deep-fried avocado is spectacular.

But I digress.

With a couple of unscheduled hours before me as I awaited my pal Valerie’s eyes to dilate like a Disney Princess‘ and then return to something like normal, I headed out for some east side exotica. And I wound up at Chaaste Family Market.

Still life with Honda. Those are spare recyclable grocery bags in the back seat, not the World’s Saddest Balloons.

Initially, I was just poking around for ingredients. It’s a hobby of mine to find the most unusual/exotic/counterintuitive ingredient I can, take it home, then read about it and figure out how to use it. That’s how I once wound up with a bag full of this, for instance:

Actually perhaps the least effective marketing campaign on behalf of mushrooms this millennium.

The bride said, “You’re not going to bring home a bunch of stuff that you’re gonna leave on the counter for months, are you?” I swore I wouldn’t, but I wouldn’t have placed a two-bit bet on whether I was lying or not. I very nearly returned with a box of “Puto,” which as near as I can tell makes a bao-like dough for steaming and stuffing. Those of you from SoCal or for whom Spanglish is a second language already know that puto has a second, and very different, meaning.

This might be the only photo of puto in a box that my website provider would allow me to host.

But judging from the signage, it seemed that la délicatesse du jour was something called turon. [You can find examples of people making them here, here, and here.] Apparently, the day’s turon output was due to start rolling out to the public at 13:30, about half an hour away. I considered making my exit — “Be back at 1:30!” — with about a 10% chance of actually being back at 1:30. But things were slow, and the very friendly proprietor (whom I would later find out is the owner’s son Chris, pictured at the right of the photo at top), said, “It could be a little earlier than that. Why not hang out for a few minutes, if you’ve got time?”

Funky and functional.

Time I had. And attached to their market is a little restaurant, with room for 20 in a pinch. Maybe. If they were friends. It’s decorated in the way that lots of the best eateries in the world are, which is to say minimally. A mural depicts the founders riding in their horse-drawn wedding coach across a bridge from the Philippines to America. It also features the second generation, in various guises. And Manny Pacquiao, because, well, the Philippines. [I’m not being snotty or superior about this in any way, because the Maritimes from which I come has restaurants that boast of Anne Murray and/or Sidney Crosby; gotta support the locals.]

Not 100% sure of tall he iconography here, but it’a a cool mural.

What little knowledge I had of Pinoy food was mostly hastily acquired when I was recruited by a chef pal to participate in a relief effort for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan; I was part of the crew he organized to throw a benefit fund-raising dinner. My contribution was calamansi chewies. So, ignorant but open, I placed myself in the hands of my host, something I often do; after all, who better to know what’s good?

Rice is nice.

We moved onto some steam table items, and settled on bistek, beef giniling guisado (which Chris told me his Latino friends refer to as “hamburger helper”), pancit bihon (a dish very like a vegetable-laden vermicelli mix, though it can also feature a variety of proteins), and, of course, the rice.

From left, clockwise: bistek, giniling guisado, pancit bihon, rice. Yum.

It was a right tasty meal, especially the bistek, whose broth had the depth of a Borges short story collection. Came to a grand total of $8.10, which has to be one of the best under-$10 meals I’ve had in America. Is it worth hacking one’s way through the ugly maw that is Los Angeles traffic to partake of it on a daily basis? Probably not. Will it be at the top of my list the next time I find myself in the neighbourhood? You bet.

The best of both worlds: Christian halfway between the market and the restaurant.

Ah, but then.

Part of me wants to believe that the omitted apostrophe is entirely intentional, and a nod to the French; after all, Mama’s turon is so good it just flies out the door, so it’s no surprise she would find herself without any. Mama Sans Turon, indeed. It’s like an egg roll and a banana and a churro and some jackfruit went up to heaven and asked if they could borrow some manna and have a baby together.

Magic and happiness, fried in tandem.

Like clockwork, at 13:30, the shop began to fill with turon fans. The first few were warned not to try them right away, as the turons were just slightly cooler than a meteorite hitting the lower atmosphere. And after I watched several happy clusters of customers drift off, I joined them, turon package in tow, in sweet (and fried) bliss. So by all means do make your way over some day, plan it around lunch, and surprise your couch- (or house-) bound friends with a little manna that found its path from heaven via Manila and Pasadena.

Summer Vegan Bean Salad I

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Bless you, Steve Sando.

Summertime, and the livin’ is… damn sticky, for the nonce, in Southern California. And there’s another heat wave coming. The last thing I want to do is to, say, sit over a pot of saffron risotto for an hour. I’d like something cool, and refreshing, and clean, and if I were able to subsist on gin and tonic or Croma Vera Albariño, well, I’d probably do that. My doctor might suggest some other course; I bet she’d be just fine with this one.

The first trick to any bean salad is — duh — great beans. I’ve long extolled the virtues of Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans, and that’s where I started. The bride and I are particularly fond of their Royal Corona beans, which are kin to the Gigandes plaki, often spelled as yigandes, used in the great Greek meze served under an expansive canopy of tomato sauce and often accompanied by Feta cheese and bread. Rancho Gordo founder Sando is something of a bean whisperer, and cultivates heirloom beans all over the world, working with local farmers at fair prices. He is a hero, full stop.

The second trick to a good bean salad is a balance of flavours and textures. No one wants a limp bean any more than they want a wet noodle — and I mean that literally and figuratively. When I knew I would be building off a base of Royal Corona beans, I compiled a culinary dance card of prospective partners, seen below. Since this is a really adaptable bean, I knew I could go off in several directions, but not all at once. So: I decided to make it Vegan. I knew sun-dried tomatoes and marinated red bell peppers would be part of it for colour and taste and texture. Then it was a matter of filling in gaps. Celery for crunch. Capers for salt and tang. Slivered almonds for more crunch. Macerated red onion for a little assertiveness, but not too much, hence the maceration. Scallions and parsley for herbaceousness and colour. Fresh thyme for extra aromatics. There were some herbs and oil in the sun-dried tomatoes, and I decided to use them rather than rinse them off, and finish off the salad dressing as needed.

NOT “5 Livered Almonds.” The pen was malfunctioning.

This is truly a salad that can be assembled by an elementary schooler, as soon as she can be trusted with a knife (and has the upper body strength to open vacuum-packed bottles, or can inveigle someone to do it for her).

Macerating the onion in this case consists of dicing it and dropping it in a bowl with enough water to cover it, dumping in a glug — that’s a technical term — of some sort of vinegar, and about .5 cup / 170 g of sugar, then stirring it up and setting it into the fridge for an hour or so, to blunt the onion’s sharpness. It’s not quite a quick pickle, but it does temper its aggressiveness.

As for the beans, I made them in my Instant Pot®. Rinsed them, covered them with water, and set the pressure on high for 25 minutes with a natural release. You can soak them overnight if you wish, and cook them in a trad soup pot (I do this in winter, just for the atmosphere), but I was shooting for fast results. I drained the cooked beans and rinsed them with cold tap water, then dumped them in with the already macerating onion to cool them down some more. Kilotonnes of options here, feel free to follow your path.

Give it a bit to mingle flavours, and you may or may not want to top it with a vinaigrette. As it turned out for me, just a few drops of great old Balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of black sea salt flakes (the flakes were black due to charcoal; they weren’t from the Black Sea) finished it off nicely, even on the second day.

Summer Vegan Bean Salad I
Serves 6-8 as a main course, with extras

INGREDIENTS
1 lb. / 454 g dried Rancho Gordo Royal Corona Beans, hydrated and cooked
24 oz. / 680 g (2 bottles, 12 oz./340 g each) marinated red peppers, drained
25-30 capers
3 large stalks celery, diced
1 red onion, diced and macerated (see note above)
1 bunch scallions (10-12), sliced
1 cup / 60 g chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp / 2.4 g fresh thyme, finely minced
16 oz. / 454 g julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil (using the oil)
.75 cup / 85 g slivered almonds

Next go, we may find room for some of those other ingredients on the dance card, plus cucumber, jicama, nopalito, or something else!

Incidentally, if you’re not wedded to the Vegan thing, bacon & bleu cheese, prosciutto & Parmesan, or even chicken & chevre could be welcome additions.

One final and sad note: As I was writing this, I learned that the Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold died. He was as much a part of this city’s cultural life as Jim Murray or Jack Smith; he was the culinary literary equivalent for this city of the likes of Mike Royko or Studs Terkel or Herb Caen. He is simply irreplaceable, and his passing at 57 is too soon by decades. I cannot begin to imagine how much our lives will be impoverished by his absence.

http://www.latimes.com/food/jonathan-gold/

At $9 A Liter, Aneto Chicken Broth Is A Steal.

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Worth its weight in chicken.

I know, I know. For that amount of money you could buy THREE liters of chicken broth. You’d probably be better off mixing this with two liters of water, actually, if price is your sole criterion.

Full disclosure: Due to an upcoming medical procedure during which they insert a video camera up into the shadiest area of my body (i.e., “where the sun don’t shine”), I am currently on a liquid diet. Chicken broth is permitted. I decided to use this opportunity to test drive a suggestion I came across while writing the article on fideuà inauténtico. My research for that piece led me to an excellent food blog called The Daring Gourmet, which features not only recipes, but also product reviews, travel and health tips, restaurant reviews, and more. [You should visit it after you’re done reading this.]

They wrote an article about their visit to the Aneto factory in Artes, Spain, that I found completely captivating. Enough so that I was willing to plunk down $27 to pick up three liters of the broth as part of my hydration regime, knowing I would be renting it for not much longer than it will take you to finish watching the final episode of The Americans this evening.

I had considered myself a fairly savvy shopper, and the chicken broth in the pantry was Kroeger’s Simple Truth Organic Free Range Chicken Broth Fat Free, which I bought at the local Ralphs for about $1.99 or so. But compare the ingredient list between Aneto (at left) and Kroeger (at right).

The boxes are the same size, but that’s where the similarities end.

As Kimberly of The Daring Gourmet pointed out in her article,

    To be called “broth” the USDA only requires a Moisture-Protein Ratio (MPR) of 1:135. That’s 1 part chicken to 135 parts water. That translates as 1 ounce of chicken per gallon of water. As unbelievable as that sounds, we’re understandably left asking, “So where’s the chicken in the chicken broth?”

Indeed.

On the left, the Aneto broth. On the right, the Kroeger. Which one do you suppose has more chicken (and, for that matter, flavour)?

I don’t want to come across as picking on Kroeger; it’s one of the best of the conventional chicken broths. The problem is that we in the United States just don’t set the bar very high (another issue addressed at The Daring Gourmet). And most of us aren’t drinking our chicken broth straight. But I gotta say, from the bottom of my taste buds, that Aneto is to conventional chicken broth what a Maybach or a McLaren is to a Vauxhall Viva.

Of course, you could make your own stock. That gives you the option to tweak the taste, and it’s possible to make a stock that’s even better than what Aneto sells. But it takes time to buy and prepare the ingredients, and if you want to get some economy of scale, it also requires a significant amount of freezer space, so those costs deserve to be considered. I come from a family where it was considered to be something of a crime to let potential soup bones go to waste, so I do make my own stock from time to time, but it’s usually with veggies that are a mere few days away from becoming a science project, plus a fresh onion (I always have those). I rarely — read “never” — set out to make a big batch of stock from scratch with purpose-bought vegetables. Plus, Aneto makes really good stock, and it’s always handy to have some room-temp broth in the pantry even if your freezer is (ahem) well-stocked.

Appended to their 2016 article, The Daring Gourmet thoughtfully provided a list of stores across the USA where Aneto is sold (the company also make a ton of broths that are not sold in the US, such as their Caldo Natural de Jamón). I got mine at the local Sur La Table; I could have saved a couple bucks a unit had I bought a six-pack through Amazon, but I failed to plan ahead that far. Idiot me. Over the next few hours, I’m sure I will have ample time to sit and contemplate the error of my ways.

Meanwhile, go read the Aneto story!

The Power of Food / LA Times Food Bowl Event

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Food — not parking — included.

To close out May Day 2018, the bride and I attended an LA Times Food Bowl function at The Wiltern that commingled elements of Iron Chef, a cable news roundtable, and a spiritual revival. The topic was “The Power of Food,” and featured guests including internationally recognized chef and humanitarian José Andrés, Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold, actress and food activist Zooey Deschanel, guerilla urban gardening advocate Ron Finley, restaurateur and author Susan Feniger, Scratch Food Truck chef/owner Tim Kilcoyne, restaurateur and Top Chef contestant Nyesha Arrington, and L.A. Kitchen founder & CEO Robert Egger.

Zooey Deschanel and Ron Finley.

In the words of co-host Andrés, “Food is powerful because it has a history that no other profession has behind it. The Boston Tea Party was a great revolution ignited by food. The salt march led by Gandhi created the freedom of an entire nation. Food can and does change the world, and that’s what gives it such unbelievable power.

And now more than ever, it is critical to recognize that food — how we grow it, sell it, cook it, and eat it — is as important as any other issue we are facing, one that is vitally connected to our lives. From culture and energy, to art, science, the economy, national security, the environment, and health, everything is connected through food, and we need to start giving it the attention it deserves.”

L-R: L.A. Kitchen’s Robert Egger, World Central Kitchen’s José Andrés.

Chef Andrés went beyond the mere sustainability and distribution of of agricultural products to address one very large and unruly elephant in the room: immigration. If you ate this evening in America, whether you cooked your own meal or had someone prepare it for you, it’s a virtual certainty that an undocumented immigrant worker was instrumental in some portion of the chain that stretched from the farm to your table. This is a moral issue, a political issue, a social issue, an economic issue, and a human rights issue that will take contributions from all sides of the debate and all points along the political spectrum to resolve, because our present system is, in a word, untenable.

But the spirit in the room was enthusiastic, upbeat, and hopeful. As the great philosopher John Lennon once observed, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.” All you need is love. Well, maybe not all you need, but it’s a good place to start.

More than Bacon, Egg, & Cheese : Coconut Curry Soba Noodle Egg Bites [Instant Pot® recipe]

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Doesn’t take much to send me down the rabbit hole.

I’ve been goofing around with the Starbucks®-style egg bites for a bit now (as you can see here and here), and I’ve had some fun exploring sort of vaguely North American/Mediterranean variations on the theme commercially available at everyone’s favourite coffee charrers.

But why not move away from the tried-and-true cheese-and-egg model? How about something vaguely Caribbean? Or Eastern European? Or South Asian? The worst that could happen is the wasteful expenditure of some time, a few eggs, and my interest in “improving” on the already terrific.

Hard to get much more authentic than a coconut curry sauce marked “Product of Canada.”

I’d like to say I made my own coconut curry sauce for this recipe, but I’d be lying. It was totally an impulse thing, given that the local mercado had several bottles on markdown to $1.49 USD. [The total outlay for this recipe came to less than $14.00 USD, since both the sauce and the mushrooms were on special. I paid extra — like 25 cents per egg extra — for humanely-farmed eggs, but I think it’s worth it. For the first seven bites, it costs out at $4.00 per two-egg-bite serving, a fairly modest savings from the commercial version, especially when one adds in one’s time. But I still have sauce, mushrooms, eggs, herbs, and noodles left over for another batch and change, so the cost per serving going forward plummets way further, to $2.00; if I get some more coconut curry sauce, it goes even lower. Not too shabby.]

Soba, awaiting the warm embrace of sauce, eggs, herbs, and fungus.

I’m pretty sure you don’t just happen to have 5 ounces (or 150 g) of cooked soba noodles lying about, so allow me to offer you an option for the rest of the soba noodles you’re likely to cook in order to make this recipe. [This No Spoon Necessary blog’s recipe was the inspiration for last night’s dinner, but since the bride and I are ovo-lacto vegetarians until Lent’s end, I had to mess with it a bit. That’s another post for another day.] Also, this version is dairy-free, unlike most other egg bite recipes.


INGREDIENTS

4 eggs
5 oz. / 150 g cooked soba noodles (I flavoured the noodle cooking water with fresh ginger, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, and tamari sauce)
10 tbsp. / 150 ml coconut curry sauce
4-5 small mushrooms, chopped
3 tbsp. / 18 g chopped green onions (2 or 3 shallots, just to make it easy)
3 tbsp. / 9 g chopped cilantro
2 scant pinches salt
olive oil or, even better, coconut oil to coat the molds
2 cups / ½ liter tap water for Instant Pot®
aluminum foil

Fungus and greens sweating it out.

DIRECTIONS
If your leftover soba noodles are in the fridge, put the ones you’re using for the recipe in a bowl with 4 tbsp. / 60 ml of the coconut curry sauce and let them sit overnight, or at least for a couple of hours; they’ll soak up the flavour. If you’re making the noodles expressly for this recipe, take the still-warm drained noodles and pop them in the bowl with the curry sauce and let them sit for as long as you can; overnight is best. In fact, I made both the soba noodles and the mushroom/cilantro/scallion combo the night before, because the timing worked out for me.

Oil egg bite tray, distribute soba noodles evenly into each cup and set aside. Chop mushrooms, green onion, and cilantro, place in a small frying pan with 1 tsp. / 5 ml oil (coconut, olive, or neutral), 2 tbsp. / 30 ml of the coconut curry sauce and the first pinch of salt; cook until soft and mushrooms have given up their liquor. Set aside to cool. [You can do this the night before if you want, and allow them to soak up the curry sauce flavour in the fridge.] In a medium size bowl, whisk the eggs, the remaining 4 tbsp. / 60 ml curry sauce, and second pinch of salt together until smooth. Fold in the cilantro, green onions, and mushrooms. Spoon mixture evenly into oiled cups in the egg tray. Add the water to the Instant Pot® container. Cover the egg tray loosely with aluminum foil, place it on the Instant Pot® steaming trivet, and lower it into the Instant Pot®. Set to “Steam” for 8 minutes at high pressure, making sure that the vent is set to “Sealing” rather than “Venting.” When timer goes off, wait four or five minutes (or more, if you desire), and flip vent from “Sealing” to “Venting.” Remove egg bites and allow them to cool for a few minutes before serving, or store in refrigerator up to five days. Reheat one or two at a time in the microwave for 30-40 seconds on “High” and serve.

Ribbons of soba in egg bites that bear a disturbing similarity to what are euphemistically known as “bull fries.”

Los cojones del toro. There’s a little something you can’t unsee.

The Return of Be a Star and Save the Bucks — Breakfast Egg Bites [No Instant Pot® Needed Version]

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The so-called Balneo Mariæ, as seen in “The Newe Jewell of Health,” 1576. The one we’re going to use is a little simpler to operate.

In the wake of my recent post about trying to duplicate the Starbucks® sous vide egg bites in an Instant Pot®, a couple of things happened that occasioned this revisit. 1) The bride said I’d gotten the origin story all wrong (she recalls it as having happened this past summer when we were headed out of the Denver metro area on the way to South Dakota in a rented monster truck, and she’s right, as per usual); and 2) my pal Sharon asked via Facebook (and hence via the bride, as I’m still on my 60-day Facebook vacation) whether the recipe could be replicated without benefit of sous vide machine or Instant Pot®.

On the latter point, I had some experience with a technique that I was confident would point me in the right direction.

The low-tech version I’m about to describe has a lot in common with making oeufs en cocotte or, as they’re known in English-speaking countries, shirred eggs. In both of those recipes, though, the yolks are still quite liquid, which means they’re probably not the best option for food destined for on-highway consumption. Also, I wanted to mimic the approximate size of the Starbucks® bites, and all the cocottes (or ramekins) in our pantry are too large for a single-egg bite, unless you’re willing for it to be more puck-shaped than ovoid.

Now that I have you intrigued, frightened, or both, it’s time to introduce you to the delights of the hot water bath known as the bain-marie.

Ever wonder for whom the bain-marie was named? Take a guess: Marie Antoinette? Marie Curie? Marie Osmond? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Maria the Jewess, chemist and process engineer.

Maria the Jewess (a/k/a Maria Prophetissima, Maria Hebræa, Miriam the Prophetess, and Maria of Alexandria, among others) is credited with creating the water bath process that bears her name. Although none of her manuscripts survive, she was cited by the Gnostic mystic Zosimos of Panopolis in the 4th century and the noted physician Arnaldus de Villa Nova in the 13th century for her accomplishments, which also are said to have included the invention of the alembic (an early still). And while Italian cookbook author Giuliano Bugialli is quoted as saying the device is actually named after a 16th century Florentine named Maria de’Cleofa, that seems to be a somewhat dubious claim, given the way earlier Villa Nova citation.

Yeah, great, but what does all this have to do with my eggs?

At sea level, the water in a bain-marie can’t exceed 212°F / 100°C, because it turns into steam. Duh. So the technique is often employed in the creation of cheesecakes, custards, and warm emulsions (such as Hollandaise sauce) that need to be cooked gently. One serious egg-cooking challenge is that the proteins in their whites and yolks coagulate (technically denature) at slightly different temperatures. Cook an egg too long (or hot), it gets rubbery like a Super Ball. Not long enough, and it comes out like a big yellow sneeze. The way these silicone pans are constructed, the bain-marie water can flow around almost all of the egg’s exterior, which makes them an efficient option (as opposed to ramekins or cocottes, whose thicker ceramic sides inhibit the transfer of heat).

Upside-down silicone egg tray.

My silicone tray holds seven servings of 75 ml / 5 tbsp. each, although you won’t want to fill each cup up to the tippy-top, since the egg mixture expands. [If you don’t have (or are not willing to purchase) a silicone egg tray, but you have ramekins/cocottes, by all means give this recipe from the FatLossFoodies blog a shot. I haven’t tried it personally, but it looks legit; read the comments on it as well for some interesting insights.]

All the ingredients in this recipe came directly from the fridge, although over the course of being mixed together and awaiting the water to come to a boil (maybe 10-15 minutes total), I’m sure they warmed considerably. When I put them in the oven, I draped the top of the tray loosely with aluminum foil to prevent the egg bites’ tops from being exposed directly to the oven’s hotter ambient air, which could toughen their texture.

Chillaxin’ in the bain-marie.

I also changed up the recipe a bit from the one in the other post.

INGREDIENTS
4 eggs
2 tbsp. / 30 g sour cream (or crema Mexicana, Salvadoreña, Hondureña, or Centroamericana)
½ cup / 100 g tomato artichoke bruschetta mix
1 cup / 125 g grated cheese (I used queso de bufala from Spain, but any melty cheese works)
2 tbsp. / 11 g fresh basil, chopped
pinch pepper
olive oil or canola oil spray to coat the molds
6 cups / 1½ liters boiling tap water for bain-marie
aluminum foil

DIRECTIONS
Set water on to boil. Preheat oven to 300°F / 150°C. [Alternatively, you can put your bain-marie tray and the water — even warm tap water — in the oven as it heats, and let it all come to temp together. It will save you a pot, if not any huge amount of time.] Oil egg bite tray and set aside. Chop basil, grate cheese, and set aside. In a medium size bowl, whisk the eggs, sour cream, and tomato artichoke bruschetta mix together until smooth. Fold in the basil and grated cheese. Spoon mixture evenly into oiled cups in the egg tray. Sprinkle pepper evenly over egg cups. Add the boiling water to the bain-marie, if you haven’t already done so. Lower the egg tray (or ramekins/cocottes) into the bain-marie. Cover the egg tray loosely with aluminum foil, and cook for 50 minutes. Remove bain-marie from oven, remove egg tray from bain-marie (the easy, non-finger-burning method is to slide a spatula under the tray and lift it while balancing it against the potholder in your other hand), and then allow egg bites to cool for 10 minutes before unmolding. Eat immediately, or refrigerate in sealed container for up to five days. Reheat for 30 seconds on “high” in microwave.

Silky and seductive.

Soupe de la Semaine: Vegan “Sofrito” Soup [Instant Pot® recipe]

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Leaves you “sofrito” experiment.

This is not going to be so much a recipe for a soup (although there will be one) as a roadmap to soup. Please keep all your appendages inside the vehicle while it’s moving.

Like many people, I occasionally find that I have a few vegetables in the fridge that really call for imminent use, lest they turn into science experiments. Today, that happened to be a two-pound package of carrots, some celery, a yellow bell pepper, and the better part of a bunch of cilantro, plus an onion that was in the unrefrigerated veggie basket. Because February is traditionally a vegetarian month for the bride and me, I decided to fold the ingredients into a soup, rather than use them as a sofrito/soffritto, mirepoix, refogado, or Suppengrün for a meat or poultry dish. [The terms in italics are all variants on the same concept, which is that a group of chopped vegetables can serve as a flavour base for stews, gravies, sauces, and the like. Ingredients and proportions vary from country to country (and from kitchen to kitchen), but not so widely that they aren’t all kissin’ culinary cousins.]

Here’s where it gets interesting: with the possible exception of the cilantro, all the vegetables can easily be enhanced to make soups that will fit in a variety of culinary traditions. For example, if I’d added lemongrass, ginger, and soy sauce to the soup (even keeping the cilantro), it would have taken a turn for Southeast Asia. Some garlic, basil, oregano, rosemary, and marjoram would have pushed it toward Italy. Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, and cumin would lend it an Indian or Sri Lankan vibe. I decided I wanted something else, a kind of mutt — er, hybrid — cuisine with elements of both Spanish and Tex-Mex.

And while this can definitely be made on the stovetop, it would take way longer than it does in a pressure cooker (Instant Pot® to the rescue again!). Basically, you’d follow all the main steps, but I would chop the vegetables into much smaller pieces to soften them more quickly. I’m guessing that 45 minutes to an hour in the stock at a high simmer (just below boiling) would do it. Then purée the vegetables and adjust spices as in the directions below.

WARNING: I like, and am accustomed to, spicy food. I would advise anyone trying out this recipe to cut the pimentón de la Vera and chipotle powder IN HALF to start. You can always make it spicier later in the process, if you wish. [If you cut the spices, you will also need only about half of the carob molasses as a consequence.]

Vegan “Sofrito” Soup
Makes about 10 cups (about 2¼ liters)

Carrots of many colours.

INGREDIENTS
2 lbs. / 1kg carrots, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper, roughly chopped
3 stalks celery (need I say roughly chopped?)
1½ cups / 30g chopped fresh cilantro
5 cups / 1.25 liters vegetable stock (I used Better Than Bouillon and water)
1-2 teaspoons / 2-4g hot pimentón de la Vera (or smoked paprika)*
½-1 teaspoon / 1.5-3g chipotle powder (or other chili powder)*
1½-3 tbsp. / 33-66g carob (or regular) molasses*
½ teaspoon / 1g cumin
½ teaspoon / 3g salt
½ tbsp. / 8g apple cider vinegar (or other vinegar, or lemon juice)

Chopped up, mixed up.

DIRECTIONS [Instant Pot®]

Chop vegetables and cilantro and add them all to inner cooking pot. Add vegetable stock, pimentón de la Vera*, and chipotle powder*.

Lock lid (making sure the vent is set to “Sealing”), select “Soup,” set pressure to “High,” and time to 20 minutes. When finished, you may allow pressure to release naturally before unlocking lid, or you can do a “quick release” by turning the vent to “Venting.”

[At this juncture, the soup will look like you left your vegetables in dishwater overnight. Don’t be discouraged!]

Process soup with immersion blender or in batches in a blender/food processor. [If you’re using either of the latter, drape a towel over the input tube or lid to allow the steam to vent.] Add cumin, carob molasses, salt, and cider vinegar. Stir and allow soup to sit for a couple of minutes before tasting and adjusting spices. It’s at this juncture that you would add the remaining half of the pimentón de la Vera, chipotle powder, and carob molasses, should you choose.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a little extra chopped cilantro. I forgot to reserve some and wound up using bread crumbs and chopped parsley for the photo. If you’re not concerned about being vegan, a dollop of sour cream and/or a sprinkle of cotija cheese would go nicely. Cashew cream is a fine vegan alternative.

*Please read the warning in red in the fifth paragraph; it’s there for your own good.

***********************************************************************

P.S. I’m perfectly happy if you want to replicate this recipe step by step, but it would bring me (and you!) greater joy if you use it as a “serving suggestion” instead, playing around with spices and quantities so that you can truly make it your own. Plus, you can clean out your fridge a bit in the process.

A Knead to know basis

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IMG_2727

A man, a ham, a plan... Panama! Er, no.

A man, a ham, a plan… Panama! Er, no. (photo courtesy Carol Prescott)

Getting an invite for a Friends and Family dinner from Chef Bruce Kalman is kind of like receiving an summons for a party on Omaha Beach from your friends in the federal government circa 1944. First, if you support the cause in even the slightest way, you’re kinda obliged to go. Second, there’s a fair bet that hijinks may ensue. With the 27 January after-hours debut of Knead & Co. pasta bar + market in downtown Los Angeles’ Grand Central Market, both were true.

Two important differences between the legendary French beach bash and the soon-to-be-storied downtown LA soirée: 1) Nobody died (though I expect a few, especially BOH, collapsed after its conclusion); and 2) The food was delicious.

Kalman, for those of you who might not be familiar with him (which I must declare myself to be, in terms of full disclosure), is the culinary driving wheel behind the much-lauded Union restaurant in Pasadena. A Jersey boy by birth, he was the executive chef of The Churchill in West Hollywood before starting his specialty company, Bruce’s Prime Pickle Co., a line of “vine to jar” hand packed pickles, which he sells by the case, rather than the peck, though individual bottles are available for purchase.

His partner in the downtown enterprise is famed restaurateur (and partner-in-crime at Union) Marie Petulla.

Absentee ownership? Nope; she's sharing the joys... and the pains.

Absentee ownership? Nope; she’s sharing the joys… and the pains.

To say that pasta is Kalman’s passion is not merely being alliterative, it’s also true. His squid ink garganelli (pictured below) at Union is the stuff of which black and al dente dreams are made. His Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, replete with its white Alba truffle and near-ubiquitous 63˚ egg, is a meal — to borrow a line from Raymond Chandler — “to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.” He can do things with pig parts that British Prime Ministers couldn’t even dream of, and we mean that in a good way.

photo courtesy of Union

photo courtesy of Union

So it’s not surprising that the opening of this market-stall-cum-restaurant generated a level of buzz not dissimilar to that of a hornet’s nest falling from the Grand Central Market’s two-storey ceiling.

IMG_2739

Like any shakedown cruise, things got shaken down a bit. It was heroic to offer the entire menu at the launch, but it was also heroic for Icarus to try to fly to the sun. I’m a wee bit surprised that I got any pictures of the kitchen staff at all, so deeply in the weeds were they by the time of my arrival. To their credit — and my admiration — they soldiered on, pumping out dishes the way Adele pumps out hits. Far from being a “soft” opening, this was a crucible of fire, and those who survived will “(sic) strip their sleeves and show their scars / And say “These wounds I had on Knead & Co.’s Friends and Family Day.” / Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot / But they’ll remember, with advantages / What feats they did that day.”

It's been

It’s been


a hard

a hard


day's night...

day’s night…

Okay, maybe Shakespeare (not to mention The Beatles) might be overdoing it a bit. But it certainly was a band of brothers — and sisters — forging themselves into a formidable unit in the narrow confines of the kitchen.

Mmmmmmeat ball.

Mmmmmmeat ball.

Oh, and the food. We had some of that. Our first dish was a pair of near baseball-sized meatballs with a meaty red sauce (Nonna, for whom they are named, must not have been a woman to trifle with); they had apparently been abandoned by their ordering patron, much to our delight. The sauce complemented the meatball the way a pat of butter complements a slice of homemade bread, adding the ideal touch of moisture and flavour without calling attention to itself.

Duck and (additional) cover.

Duck and (additional) cover.

The bride broke into a mini-frowny-face when she saw the comparatively conservative portions of the Smoked Duck Agnolotti, but that flipped upside-down the moment she had a bite in her mouth. “Wow. That is so good, but it’s rich. Glad they didn’t give us more than that.” The Porcini Lasagnette was redolent of butter, fresh herbs, and the most delectable legal fungus product available. Even in cardboard with a plastic fork, it was elegant.

To be clear, the reviews will thunder in from all directions, so I can’t promise that you’ll be able to avoid a line when you visit Knead & Co. pasta bar + market. What I can promise you is that it will have been worth the wait.

Dried and fresh pastas are also available for purchase, as are sauces. They may be the closest you — or I — will ever get to Being Like Bruce.

Knead & Co. pasta bar + market
Grand Central Market
317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Torta or Tarta de Santiago (or maybe not)

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On the road to Santiago... specifically, Triacastela.

On the road to Santiago… specifically, Triacastela.

In May of 2015, my bride and I took a journey along the Camino de Santiago, an ancient Catholic pilgrim route (more specifically, we traveled along a portion of the so-called Camino Francés, which is one of a number of Camino routes that all end up in Santiago de Compostela, Spain). It’s an excellent thing to do, as evidenced by the motion picture The Way, and by the still-incomplete blog chronicling our trip, Two Roads to Santiago.

Complexo Xacobeo. Food, lodging, taxi, you name it, you got it.

Complexo Xacobeo. Food, lodging, taxi, you name it, you got it.

Triacastela is a small (pop. 721) town in the province of Lugo, in the Galician region of Spain; it’s about 135 km east of Santiago de Compostela. It got its name from three castles that once stood there (though none of them do now). We stayed there the evening of 24 May, Bob Dylan’s birthday, apropos of nothing. After disgorging our luggage, we wandered into the center of town for dinner, and had an excellent meal at the Complexo Xacobeo.

We didn't have just wine and water, but it was a good start.

We didn’t have just wine and water, but it was a good start.

At dinner’s close, the bride and I had a minor disagreement that would change my life — our lives — for the better. I wanted a cool, refreshing ice cream for dessert, and she preferred to try a local delicacy called tarta de Santiago (in Spanish, anyway; in the local Gallego, it was torta de Santiago). It’s an almond cake whose recipe will follow later in this post.

I like almonds and I like sugar, but most almond confections have generally left me unimpressed; marzipan actually engages my gag reflex. But the bride had walked 20-odd kilometres that day over steep terrain, so she won. Wow, am I glad she did. It was so delicious that I dedicated the balance of our time in Spain to sampling as many versions of it as I could reasonably consume, and no fewer than eight bakers’ interpretations of the ancient recipe passed my lips.

1835? 1838? Galicia? Elsewhere? You decide.

1835? 1838? Galicia? Elsewhere? You decide.

How ancient is the recipe? It certainly goes back as far as the Cuaderno de confitería, which was compiled by Luis Bartolomé de Leyba circa 1838. It’s actually based upon this publication that the tarta/torta obtained its Indicación Geográfica Protegida, which protects its status and authenticity the same way that Champagne does for certain French sparkling wines and Parmigiano Reggiano does for certain Italian regional cheeses. That’s all good as far as it goes, but Spanish culinary historian Jorge Guitián discovered that the Cuaderno de confiteria was largely a rehash of recipes that had previously been published elsewhere, including one cookbook, Art Cozinha, that was published in Lisbon in 1752, not to mention Juan de la Mata’s Arte de Repostería, published in 1747. One source sets its first publication date at 1577, as “torta real,” claiming it was brought to Spain by the Moors. And on top of that, some culinary historians have suggested that the recipe came originally from Sephardic Jews settled in the area, and its original use was as a Passover cake, as it’s unleavened.

Because of their generous and welcoming nature, I’m inclined to give the Gallegos a mulligan on this one. Whether or not the tarta de Santiago actually originated in Galicia, it flourished there, and they have embraced it as part of their cultural and culinary heritage. One thing is for certain: the habit of dusting the top of the cake with powdered sugar, save for a stencil of a cruz Xacobeo (Saint James’ cross) dates to 1924, when José Mora Soto, a baker in Santiago de Compostela, decorated his cakes with the mark to distinguish his from competitors’. In the intervening 90+ years, the tradition has been almost universally embraced.

The ancestral home of the modern tarta.

The ancestral home of the modern tarta.

His bakery, rechristened Pastelería Mercedes Mora (for his granddaughter, pictured below), still makes the cakes today.

The real deal.

The real deal.

Good as they may be, it’s inconvenient to travel to Santiago de Compostela every time you care to have one of these cakes. So here’s a step-by-step version of the shockingly simple recipe.

The finished item.

The finished item.

TARTA DE SANTIAGO

Ingredients

• 250 grams / 2.5 cups of almond flour (I use ½ blanched and ½ unblanched)
• 250 grams / 1.25 cups of sugar, preferably superfine/baker’s sugar
• 6 eggs
• Zest of two citrus fruits (lemon is traditional)
• Powdered sugar to sprinkle on the top
• 1 chunk of unsalted butter to spread on the springform pan
• You can use a variety of essences to give the cake a nice aroma, such as brandy, cinnamon, etc.
• 1 round detachable mold/springform pan / 22 to 25 cm or 9 to 10 in. diameter
• Lemon juice or other liquid for moistening top of cake
• a paper (or plastic) St. James cross for stencil

Two different almond flours are optional.

Two different almond flours are optional.

Batter will be fairly loose when you pour it into the pan; don't worry.

Batter will be fairly loose when you pour it into the pan; don’t worry.

Out of the oven and ready for stenciling.  I use a spray bottle to apply the liquid, but a dish and pastry brush works fine too.

Out of the oven and ready for stenciling. I use a spray bottle to apply the liquid, but a dish and pastry brush works fine too.

Preparation

• Preheat the oven to 175º C (350º F)
• In a large bowl, combine the sugar, almond flour, and lemon zest or other essence. Mix ingredients well with a fork.
• In separate bowl, mix eggs with fork until blended.
• Add the eggs and mix well with a spoon or rubber spatula, but do not whisk, only make sure all the ingredients are moistened.
• Spread the butter on the mold (or spray with PAM) and pour the mix in it.
• Bake at 175º C (350º F) for 40-45 minutes until the surface is toasted and golden; when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, it’s done.
• When the cake is done, remove from the oven and let it cool before unmolding. You may want to run a knife or spatula around the edge to make sure the tarta hasn’t stuck to the pan, but do be careful not to scratch the pan when you do it.
• When the cake has cooled, place the paper/plastic cross on top of the surface, moisten the entire top of the cake (including the stencil) with citrus juice or other liquid (brandy, etc.), then sprinkle powdered sugar evenly over the entire surface, using a mesh strainer.
• Remove the stencil carefully, as to avoid dropping sugar from the stencil onto the cake.

Maybe not quite Mora, but pretty darn close and a whole lot easier.

Maybe not quite Mora, but pretty darn close and a whole lot easier.

A Close — And Sweet — Shave

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A sweet ride.

A sweet ride.

[Full disclosure: I have been acquainted with the owner’s family for something approaching a decade, so make of that what you will. As a for-example, I adore my mom, but she made some of the Worst. Tacos. Ever. Taste and truth trump ties. And if I’m willing to dis my own mother (who also, incidentally, was capable of crafting a world-class roast of beef), you can bet I’m not going to be shy about pulling punches here. Apart from mentioning that the CEO is a 17 year old entrepreneur named Jack Kaplan, I’m going to leave the history of the enterprise for him to tell as it unfolds.]

Kakigori, for those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, is the Japanese version of shave ice (in the “shaved” vs. “shave” ice argument, I come down on the latter for no particular reason except that’s how I learned it). But before you turn your thoughts to sno-cones filled with something that looks like anti-freeze and tastes vaguely of an alleged “blueberry” lollipop, please jettison every childhood image of sno-cones, Icees, Slurpees, or other frozen concoctions. Kakigori is to sno-cones as an éclair is to a Twinkie. Conceptually similar, but light years apart in terms of taste.

Its origins date back to Japan’s Heian period (AD 794 to 1185), where it is mentioned in The Pillow Book (枕草子 Makura no Sōshi), a collection of observations and musings written by Sei Shōnagon, a lady in the court of Empress Consort Teishi. [The book was completed in 1002.] At the time, the delicacy was confined strictly to the upper classes, due in part to the scarcity of ice, especially in the summertime. During the Meiji period, in the late 1800s, so-called “Boston ice” arrived by ship from America, and kakigori was made available to the masses. Yay.

Generally speaking, kakigori is not merely a flavouring poured over ice, though it can be. Often times, the ice itself is infused with some sort of flavouring agent (as you will see below). In addition, many recipes may include elements such as sweetened condensed milk, ice cream, fresh fruit, syrups featuring caramel or chocolate, and other sundry goodies, such as sweetened mochi, a confection made from rice paste that takes on a chewy/sticky texture not altogether unlike a soft gummi bear.

It’s not available widely in America at present, but that may be about to change with the debut of Kakigori Kreamery’s mobile unit (seen pictured at top) in Venice, CA, on 25 July 2015. That’s an auspicious launch day, as the Japan Kakigori Association designates that date as the “day of kakigori” because its pronunciation sounds like “summer ice” in Japanese.

Green Kara-Tea

Green Kara-Tea.

At press time, there are nine flavours:
Strawberry Samurai
Green Kara-Tea
Kookie Kabuki
Mt. Fuji
Ginja Ninja
Blueberry Banzai
Mokamania
Konichiwa Kitty
WATA-WATAmelon

Okay, the names are a little goofy, though not to the level of IHOP’s popular “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity®” pancake entrées, which I would absolutely refuse to order by name just because. But underlying the frivolous nomenclature lies some serious taste delight. If I might direct your attention to the photo above, do note that the ice is shaved, rather than cracked or crushed, which gives it a texture far more delicate than the traditional sno-cone (and even much of the “Hawaiian-style” shave ice, which frequently is no more shaved than Duck Dynasty‘s cast members). This is the Green Kara-Tea kakigori, which is made from green tea ice, rainbow mochi, and matcha-infused condensed milk. [Matcha, of course, is green tea powder, with its stems and veins removed before processing.] It’s sweet enough for kids to enjoy (and they’ll adore the rainbow mochi), but not an adult-repelling sugar bomb.

I should have taken a shot of the Ginja Ninja, because it was may fave of the bunch (I tried five of the nine flavours, and I’m going back next weekend to complete the date card). With its ginger ice, snappy gingersnap crumble, Maldon salt, and caramel sauce, it’s a bracing and energizing blast of spray from a rousing sail on the Ginger Sea.

WATA-WATAmelon!

WATA-WATAmelon!

Tastewise, the WATA-WATAmelon totally nails it; mint, lime, and basil meld with watermelon the way Kardashians meld with camera lenses. They were made for one another. Its one slight drawback is that the delicate watermelon ice shavings, like Blanche DuBois, tend to wilt in the heat. You have to plow through your portion at speed, or risk the possibility of having a cup of refreshing watermelon drink, rather than an icy delight. That said, it’s something of a small quibble, because it’s pretty great in either state (mine wound up half and half).

But Kakigori Kreamery’s secret weapon in its quest for world domination may well be their Kookie Kabuki: cookies ‘n’ cream ice, crushed Oreos, and condensed milk. This. Is. Irresistible. While the Ginja Ninja is still my favourite, it (much like me) is a little idiosyncratic. The Kookie Kabuki, on the other hand, has its sights locked on a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-you-name-it target that wants a summertime comfort sweet that hits every familiar note. With a little luck, this might just supplant Häagen-Dazs’ Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream as the heavyweight champ in the chocolate-meets-vanilla arena. But this is the case only if, of course, you happen to be in southern California. Otherwise… well, Japan is nice this time of year, but a SoCal sojourn might well be both less expensive and less complicated.

You can follow the exploits of Kakigori Kreamery here and here.

If you want to be around for their official debut, come check them out at the grand opening:
7/25 from 8:30am – 2:05pm
Venice Arts & Collectibles Market
13000 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066

And should you care to try a home version of kakigori, you can pick up a Japanese-style ice shaver here, and a recipe for Peach Yogurt Kakigori with Mint Syrup here.