Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Potatoes, pancetta, pomegranates

Simple dinners have been the norm this week, with Trader Joe's purchases as a starting point.  Yesterday, I sauteed kale and paired it with a cup of that trusty tomato-and-roasted-red-pepper soup (the low-sodium version), which I simmered for a while with chopped shallot, frozen corn, and finally a beaten egg, salt, and black pepper.  Pretty good, especially with the thickness from the beaten egg.  Tonight I sauteed the shallot first before adding the soup, and then added some corn and a couple frozen shrimp.

Boring picture, I know

Over the summer, when there was plenty of white corn and cheerfully colored potato varietals at the Farmer's Market, I started making Smitten Kitchen's bacon corn hash, using pancetta instead of bacon, parsley or green onion, and loosely following the recipe's proportions.  Making a single big batch would provide me a week of breakfasts (usually reheated with an egg) in fine fashion.  Now corn is out of season, so tonight I just cooked potatoes with pancetta, adding some rosemary for extra flavor.

Dinner is served.

Corn may be out of season, but pomegranates are definitely in.  A family friend in Davis brought over some delicious homegrown pomegranates during Thanksgiving break, and on Monday Kelly surprised me with another lovely fruit from her boyfriend's tree.  That same afternoon, I listened to Martha Stewart's "Not My Job" interview on Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me and learned about her technique for isolating pomegranate seeds.  I cracked open Kelly's pomegranate during tutorial on Monday night, breaking two plastic knives in the process, but without a bowl or wooden spoon, fingers were still the best (if very messy) approach.  Tonight, though, with one more pomegranate (from Trader Joe's, surprise surprise) sitting on my counter, and my full kitchen armament available, I decided to try Martha's technique.

Step 1: Make 4 cuts through the pomegranate skin, no deeper (so you don't cut into any of the seeds).

Step 2: Separate one of the quarters.  Hold the segment over a bowl and repeatedly whack it with [the edge of] a wooden spoon, which will loosen the seeds.  The whacking requires quite a bit of force, but provides excellent stress relief.

Whack, whack, whack!
One segment emptied, three to go.

Step 3: Repeat with the other segments. 

Step 4: Clean the counter (and in my case, cell phone as well).  Enjoy seeds.  This method is definitely less messy than picking out all the seeds with one's fingers, but some drops of juice still get dispersed.  It helps if one's shirt happens to be pomegranate seed-colored :-).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pear and chocolate chip scones

Last Tuesday evening, I was sitting at my desk feeling restless, and decided that instead of finishing my summary of the PBL journal club article, I wanted to bake.  So, I pulled out a recipe from Smitten Kitchen that, as is my habit, I had bookmarked a while back: roasted pear and chocolate scones.

My changes to the recipe:
- Instead of three Bartlett pears, I used two Bartlett and one Asian pear.
- Instead of 1/4 cup heavy cream, I used just under 1/4 cup soy milk combined with 2 tbsp melted butter.
- I added some cinnamon and vanilla extract.

I don't have a paddle attachment for my hand mixer, so instead, I worked the small chunks of butter into the dry ingredients with my fingers, and then used a spatula once the wet ingredients were added.  Two scones were baked immediately, and the other four were frozen on parchment paper.

The results were very satisfying: a crusty top, tender insides, lightly sweet, and with the surprisingly complementary bursts of chocolate and pear.  Perfect for breakfast!  Next time I might toss in some more chocolate chips, or actually use more substantial chunks as the recipe specifies.  Needless to say, the recently-released Smitten Kitchen cookbook just moved to the top of my cookbook wish list.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

West Hollywood: Animal

Sunday night was date night and a rather visually stunning one: Skyfall, followed by dinner at Animal.  I'd been thinking about trying Animal for over a year, since Andrew's first visit to LA, and his upcoming birthday seemed as good a time as any.  We arrived more than 15 minutes early for our 8:15pm reservation (turns out Sunday evening traffic is actually light in West Hollywood?!) and found that the restaurant was packed.  Animal doesn't have an inside area to wait, but their little heated "patio" outside the entrance is a surprisingly cozy place to peruse the evening's menu.

We were seated on time, water was poured, and our server soon came over and told us that for two people, 4-6 dishes is typical.  Here is what we ordered (names/descriptions copied directly from the menu):

Hamachi tostada with herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut:

Tandoori octopus, tamarind, mango, raita:

(Partly eaten before I remembered to take the picture)

Marrow bone, chimichurri, caramelized onions:

Grilled quail, plum char-siu, pear, apple, yogurt, pomegranate:

Our reactions to all of the dishes centered around the following three thoughts: "Wow, that's attractive," "Wow, that flavor combination is amazing," and "Wow, that portion is really small for the price."  The hamachi tostada - bracing, both refreshing and assertive - was Andrew's favorite; the tandoori octopus was velvety with some zing from the tamarind, and would be my choice out of the four.  Of course, all four dishes were beautifully presented, interesting, and delicious, and we understood why Animal is so popular.  That said, even being aware beforehand that it would be an expensive meal, we found it overpriced for the small portions, and I don't know that we'd go back even on a night when we were ok with splurging.  (After tax and a 20% tip, our bill was $73.30.)

Xavi, Elisa, and one of Xavi's coworkers had just been seated as Andrew and I headed out, which was a happy coincidence.  Nothing on the dessert menu had called to us, so instead, we went next door to Canter's Deli for some coffee and two massive hamentashen.  Less refined, yes, but it all cost less than almost any one dish at Animal, and in its own way, was no less satisfying.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Roast chicken and vegetables with rosemary honey glaze

Andrew came to visit this past weekend, and in anticipation of cooking dinner one night, we tossed around some food ideas last week.  "Maple syrup and pecans" came up, which evolved to "honey and pecans" (because I already had honey and didn't want to buy maple syrup).  Ultimately, we decided to make roast chicken, carrots, and potatoes with rosemary-infused honey glaze.

Chicken after baking (turned pink from the purple carrots underneath)

On Saturday morning, I bought potatoes (red, purple, and yellow), carrots (crazy purple- and rainbow-colored!), and rosemary at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market.  Boneless/skinless chicken thighs and pecans came from Trader Joe's.  The potato-stand owner at the Market gave me some tips once I told him what we were planning to cook: 1) Anything other than salt and oil will get scorched when roasted at 400 degF, so add pepper or glazes towards the end; and 2) Spread out potato pieces or else they won't get crisp in the oven.

Potatoes, dutifully spread out

In the evening, we arranged the chicken pieces on top of the peeled/chopped carrots, coated the chicken with some safflower oil and a sprinkling of salt, and baked it all at 400 degF.  The potatoes were baked separately.  Meanwhile, we gently heated honey with some rosemary on the stove for nearly half an hour.  The fragrant sauce was poured onto the chicken, followed by a generous sprinkling of pecans, for the final 10-15 minutes of baking.  On the side we had some salad (spicy lettuce/frisee blend plus cherry tomatoes) and a little raisin-hazelnut-multigrain bread, also from the market, and poured some Chianti.

Our verdict: this cooking experiment was a success!  The melding of sweet, savory, herbal, and nutty flavors, with contrasting textures from the chicken, vegetables, and nuts, made the dish particularly satisfying, and somehow reminiscent of Thanksgiving dinner.  In any future iterations, we would want to add some acid, such as red wine vinegar, to help cut the sweetness; on Saturday, the salad (which we ate without dressing) provided that balance.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Guest post by the PNBC: Elementals in Whistler

Back in September, E sent me this great review of Elementals from her end-of-summer vacation to Whistler.  I'm finally posting it - better late than never, right?  Enjoy!


M and I took to the road last weekend and headed up to Canada for a last hurrah before the new school year.  Our vacation destination was Whistler, the beautiful ski resort and mountain village in British Columbia featured in the 2010 winter olympics.  Our hotel was at the foot of Blackcomb Mountain (Whistler's matching peak) and we spent a lot of time hiking by pristine lakes and streams. 

We made time for a romantic date night, though, and went to "Elementals Urban Tapas".  We've come to like the multiple small plate style of dining because it allows us to try a wider variety of dishes; the restaurants adhering to this model also seem to be typically trendy and lounge-like which we like for ambiance.  This restaurant was no exception, and the dim lighting and open kitchen set the mood and gave us a lot to watch.  We kept one of our menus so we could try to guess what the chefs were cooking.  The chefs were also very talented; the food was delicious and we enjoyed our meal enormously.  We started with a simple green salad, with apples, celery, toasted nuts, and arugula, dressed with a light and complementary vinaigrette. 

It was crunchy and good and helped us pace ourselves so we could prolong the evening with additional courses.  For our next course we chose the lettuce cups, which came on a long tray with ingredients for us to self-assemble.  There were bean sprouts, shredded carrots and cabbage, thin salty rice noodles, toasted cashews, and honey-chili tofu.

From the menu it sounded like the tofu was going to be deep-fried and M was a little disappointed to find it squishy, but it had a creaminess that reflected good cooking rather than its raw texture.  The build-your-own format was a little messy but also fun, and we could top them off with a delicious sauce I'd put on anything.

Our final course had prawn and scallop skewers, adventurous for me since I don't typically enjoy prawns; these prawns, however, changed my mind.  The perfectly caramelized outside made the scallops and prawns delicious, and they were very fresh and without any undue fishy flavor.

The coconut vermicelli noodles that accompanied were a little disappointing because they were cold, but the papaya slaw with brown sugar and bell peppers was unusual and delicious.

It was a lovely dinner and we were so grateful that Yelp steered us to this restaurant; it was just what we were hoping for and we would definitely (and will hopefully) return.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

West Hollywood: AOC

Now that I've taken a full two months off from blogging, the backlog of food pictures I have in Picasa is becoming distressing.  And when I realized this week that a guest blog post from E (my ever-enthusiastic Pacific Northwest Bureau Chief) had been sitting in my inbox for months now, my own slackerness (slackening? slackerhood?) started feeling shameful.  So, here we go.  This may be No Shave November for some, but as far as my food blog goes, I think I'll aim for No Negligence.

First up is AOC in West Hollywood, where I met David, Hua, and Hua's out-of-town friend Aaron for brunch on a weekend back in July.  AOC is a wine bar and one of Suzanne Goin's establishments; I hadn't been to any of them before AOC, so I was curious.  Parking is by valet or on the street, and we all got lucky with street spots nearby.  The interior is attractive in that high ceilings + clean lines + judicious use of dark wood way (very common these days but still appealing).  We were seated in the smaller half of the restaurant, of which I don't have much lasting other than the temperature; they really should have turned the thermostat down a little that day.

I ordered the soft-shell crab BLTA, which consisted of an entire whole soft-shell crab with lettuce, tomato, avocado, bacon, and garlic aioli on a brioche bun.   It looked quite impressive, and was definitely tasty if very rich:

David ordered the oven-baked pancakes with blueberries and pistachios.  I think this dish was definitely the winner on the table.  Toasty edges, fluffy center, some crunch from the pistachios, and some lemon flavor to round out the sweetness.  Delicious!

Hua ordered the "tavern pastry plate," which consisted of a chocolate croissant, a scone of some sort, and another pastry I don't recall, all very good.  She also tried a side of the thick-cut bacon and the fruit plate, which our server said was sourced from that morning's Farmer's Market.  Aaron ordered the duck confit with mushroom hash, poached eggs, and aged balsamic.  He asked for it to be prepared gluten-free, and the kitchen readily agreed to do so, although the first plate they sent out did have to be sent back.  (No pictures of the pastry or confit/hash, sorry.)  Portions here are certainly generous, so I think sharing any of these dishes would have been fine (and would have prevented a food coma afterward).

In general I'm very wary of driving to or from West Hollywood, since it almost always involves some congestion and a quest for parking.  AOC isn't exactly convenient, and on top of that, prices are on the high side (most brunch dishes are $13-17), so it won't become a go-to.  But if I already had plans in the WeHo area, and a friend (or two) were up for some indulgence, then I think sharing some of those pancakes and maybe the confit/hash would be an enjoyable option.