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Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

Bagna Càuda Grilled Oysters

In Food, Recipes on December 30, 2010 at 9:09 am

Oh my god I love oysters. And that 18th century adage about only eating oysters in months that contain the letter “r”? Welcome to the 21st century where sustainable farming and advanced wet storage for freighting means you can enjoy oysters year round. Yes, there are seasonal crops, so do ask your fishmonger what’s best to grill, what’s best to eat on the half shell in any given month. And while now is the height of the season to enjoy Pacific oysters raw, last night I had grilled oysters on the brain. Something about the pouring rain and hot-off-the-grill garlicky oysters sounded super. Back at home, Mr. Foodinista shucked away.

First, a word about gear. We have a French-style stainless oyster knife with guard by Rösle that is ideal for smaller oysters, like my favorite Kumamotos. That said, with our monster Canadian mollusks, last night we were wishing we had an East Coast-style shucker with a long flat blade (also called a “stabber”) given the deep cup of the shell and flat top. I think I’m going to order a four-inch Dexter-Russell with a high-carbon-steel blade for Mr. Foodinista. Hog Island Oyster Company sells them online for $15.

Dexter-Russell oyster knife via HogIslandOysters.com

While Mr. Foodinista shucked, I opened up a little tin of Trader Joe’s anchovies. I keep a few of these tins on hand at all times. Sometimes, when I’m feeling nostalgic for my starving student days and craving a sodium bomb, they stand in for lunch in a pinch.

Last night, however, a filet or three found their way into a modified bagna càuda (traditional Piedmontese warm dipping sauce of garlic, anchovies, oil, butter). I threw the anchovies, a bunch of Italian parsley and about 8 cloves of garlic into a mini food prep and chopped the hell out of it.

The mixture then eased its way into a hot bath of melted butter and olive oil in a skillet.

Ideally you would have rock salt on hand and would first sprinkle that onto a baking sheet and nestle the oysters on the half shell on top to steady them. We did not have rock salt. Next time. I spooned the bagna càuda over the freshly shucked oysters and Mr. Foodinista disappeared with the tray and grilled them over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, when the sauce just started to bubble.

My husband noticed that the sauce that had spilled over onto the pan steamed up during the grilling, and I like to believe it added a little extra loveliness.

Since there was a fair amount of the bagna càuda left, I tossed some into a wok and added a ton of spinach leaves, along with some more chopped anchovies, red pepper flakes and mint leaves from our garden. You then sauté covered, over medium heat (stirring a few times with a wooden spoon) for three minutes. Pour yourself a glass of Gavi (a Piedmontese white), sit down around the table and make a wee bit of a pig of yourself.

“You Got Rooked…”

In Drink, Media on December 29, 2010 at 5:57 pm

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Los Angeles Magazine has a series of cover archives up on its website. How AMAZING is this cover from the month and year I was born? And how fitting that the cover model is pedaling wine. I flipped out when I saw it and emailed my friend Mary, who edits the magazine today. Mary did a little digging and discovered that our cover model was Ken Cohen, owner with his wife, Sherry, of The Wine Seller, which was located at 538 1/2 N. La Cienega. (A quick Google reveals that today a hardwood flooring company occupies the spot.)

Mary adds, “He was featured in a story, ironically enough given that we just did a similar piece in the December issue, on ‘The City’s Best Wine Shops,’ by George Christy.” Mary photocopied the story and mailed it to me. Also included that 1972 cover story were survivors Duke of Bourbon, Red Carpet Wine, and Wally’s West Liquors, complete with a picture of a 30-year-old Steve Wallace. (Funnily enough both Red Carpet Wine and Wally’s are featured in the current issue’s roundup of the city’s 10 best wine and liquor shops.)

In addition to the hairdos, the article provides plenty of entertainment. For starters, the prices were NUTS. Back then at Wally’s you could snap up a bottle of 1969 BV Burgundy from Napa Valley for $2.25, or a 1966 Les Forts de Latour claret from Bordeaux for $15.99 (today Wally’s fetches $249.99 for the 1970 vintage of Les Forts). It’s also fun to see where Angelenos were a few decades ago with their wine buying habits. I, for one, am totally on board with Sherry Cohen who “stresses that it’s about time women became actively interested in the wines that they drink.” And I love her husband’s cautionary coverline concerning Chateauneuf-du-Pape. (I mean, the last thing any of us wants is to get rooked buying Chateauneuf, the horror.) But while the Cohens may have come and gone, isn’t it kind of great that so many of the L.A.’s original young turks of wine still rule the roost today?

Thank you, Los Angeles Magazine, for sharing these awesome archival covers. And thank you, Mary, for sending this most excellent guide. I think I know what I’m uncorking tonight and just pray that I didn’t overpay…

Beer-Battered Sweetwater Oyster Po’ Boy with Bacon Remoulade

In Food, Out of Town on December 28, 2010 at 9:15 pm

What was my favorite sammie of 2010? This one. Why? Allow these two words to sink in: Bacon. Remoulade. It’s a good thing I don’t live closer to Hog Island Oyster Company at Napa’s Oxbow Public Market or we’d be in big trouble. Since we’re among friends here, I confess that I had two of these po’ boys in as many days last week when I was visiting my parents for Christmas. My sister staged an intervention when I began making noise about returning for a third. Here’s the not-so-skinny: Four beer-battered and fried Hog Island Sweetwater oysters atop a bed of bacon remoulade on a toasted potato bun. Those sweet and briny Sweetwaters against that smoky remoulade with just a squeeze of lime juice is just about as good as it gets.

Champagne Caps

In Design, Drink on December 28, 2010 at 2:45 pm

On my very first visit to Reims, I remember marveling at how the French children collected Champagne caps—swapping them like American kids do baseball cards—the rarer the cap, the higher its currency. A decade or so later, shortly after I first met my husband, I noticed that we were amassing quite a collection ourselves. For a while, the caps and cages lined the window sill in our kitchen because they made me happy, each one a memory.

At some point I ran out of sill and began storing them in a bag in a closet. But I had a plan all along. For years I’ve been looking for just the right demijohn—a large glass bottle used to store wine during fermentation. My parents have a gorgeous green one from the 18th century. When we were little, my sister and I liked to drop copper pennies into it. So maybe it was fate that when we were up in Napa Valley last week visiting my parents for Christmas, my husband spotted a vintage vessel circa 1910 in a shop on Main Street, St. Helena. We brought the bottle home.

While Tiny G was napping earlier today, I spent an hour or so engrossed in organizing the Champagne caps by color, and stacking repeats, on our dining room table. They are so pretty.

My husband came home in the middle of this Very Important task and was clearly concerned, but graciously pretended that what I was doing was sane. Here are a few of my favorites, including the cap from the very first bottle he and I ever drank together, a 1995 Bollinger Grand Année that had been a gift.

We dropped all the caps into the demijohn. The bottle is destined to live next to the fireplace once the Christmas tree comes down, but here it is on our dining room table. Sure felt like a lot of caps going in (I’m thinking around a couple hundred?), but they barely made a dent. I guess we have a lifetime ahead to fill it up. Time to start celebrating.

Happy Christmas!

In Baby Love, Out of Town on December 25, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Boy meets piano karaoke machine. Mommy meets egg nog. Spiked.

Home for the Holidays

In Out of Town on December 23, 2010 at 10:42 am

After a week of torrential rain in Los Angeles, we made the stormy drive to Napa Valley yesterday. It was pretty intense over the Grapevine—pitch black and buckets of rain and winds—but we made it! And woke up at my parents’ house on Howell Mountain this morning to the sunny view above. Sometimes the fog over the valley floor seeps right up to their back deck and looks like an ocean. And then other times, like this morning, it creeps up to the house so that you can’t see more than a few yards in front of you. Here’s a view, below, 20 minutes later as the fog starts to close in. Isn’t that wild? A different, moodier sort of white Christmas, and my very favorite kind.

Comfort Me with Pluots

In Food on December 21, 2010 at 10:58 am

One of my best mates emailed me this morning from snowy Oxfordshire wondering if LA was awash in sunshine and fake snow. In fact, I was recently at a dinner party where a guest shared that she brings in a snow machine on Christmas morning to blanket her front garden, much to the irritation of the neighbors (to say nothing of the environment). But I digress. The short answer is “no.” For the past week LA has been deluged by biblical rain with streets flooding, mud sliding down hillsides, well, you get the un-sunny picture. Which means all one wants to do is hunker down with a nice braised bowl of something and watch reruns of Arrested Development. To that end, last night I braised sausages in red wine with pluots, sage, garlic and shallots.

Weirdly, I’ve been seeing pluots at our markets, but seedless grapes would also be a nice seasonal substitute for this easy and comforting dish from Molly Stevens’s All About Braising. Click HERE for recipe. I used Cabernet for the pretty red sauce because it was what I had open, but it ended up being a little too tannic, so do follow Molly’s advice about using a lighter and fruitier style red like Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.

I also made up a pot of polenta, Zuni style, which means slow and low and very little stirring. And because I’m a Bay Area girl I like Golden Pheasant polenta, which is a little more coarse than some polenta and adds a wonderful toothiness to this dish. Oh, and I skip the parm but feel free to gild the lily.

The polenta takes about an hour and a half all in, so start that going first and then prep and braise the sausages. And then dish up a bowlful and settle into a Charlie Brown Christmas, Arrested Developmentstyle:

Rabbit Is Rich

In Food on December 20, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Why is it that I rarely remember to put on lipstick for business meetings, but I gloss up for the butcher? Maybe that’s because the butcher is Harvey Gussman, who supplies dry-aged beef to some of LA’s best restaurants. This past week, I called Harvey to place an order for two rabbits, hacked up into eight pieces each, as we were having a bunch of my husband’s friends to dinner. The following morning, I rang the bell in the alley to collect my wabbits.

Harvey had them boxed up and ready to go. This girl has always loved good packaging.

Back at home, I broke out a recipe for Melissa Clark’s Mustardy Braised Rabbit With Carrots, which ran in the New York Times a couple years ago and has been recommended to me by several friends, including she of exquisite taste, author Mary L. Tabor. It starts with a simple herb sachet of rosemary, thyme and cloves.

Really, what takes the most effort is browning the meat to add that extra layer of flavor, and because I was doing two bunnies, this represented the lion’s share of the work.

From there you sauté your leeks, sage and carrots in the same pot in which you browned the rabbit.

Then you simmer in white wine and chicken broth, and put into the oven to braise for about two hours, or until the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender. Though rabbit is a very lean meat, braising gives a perceived decadence to this dish, which is actually very healthy even if it doesn’t taste it.

I spooned the mustardy sauce over the rabbit and served with buttered egg noodles. As well as injudicious amounts of lush Goldeneye Pinot Noir.

Gingerbread House

In Baby Love on December 20, 2010 at 11:31 am

Yesterday Tiny G decorated his first gingerbread house—well, technically it was a bungalow (how L.A.) from Sweet GinGer House in West Hollywood. After which he met Santa Claus for the very first time and asked him for a scooter.

Party Hotline

In Drink, Food, Media on December 19, 2010 at 10:54 pm

There are some girls who make it all seem so effortless. You know, the ones who log a 60-hour work week, look like supermodels and can cook for a crowd without batting a lash? I worship at the 4-inch stilettos of these women. And so, as we head into the hullabaloo that are the Christmas and New Years holidays, I checked in with three haute hostesses for their top three secrets for holiday entertaining. And, as always, I learned a new trick. My fave might be from my friend Tanya, who builds in time for a quick escape before her guests arrive. And check out how my cooking club amigas Sally and and Lulu set the scene. Read on!

Tanya Steel, award-winning Editor-in-Chief, Epicurious.com and co-author of Real Food for Healthy Kids

Because I end up cooking almost the entire meal for every holiday, there are a few ways I ensure I will not be a crazed, exhausted, stressed-out person the day of—well, only somewhat crazed, exhausted, and stressed:

I prep every single possible part of every recipe the day before.

I force, I mean, ask my children to set the table the night before.

I get up early the day of the meal, finish prepping and cooking, and then go for a walk, by myself, so I can get 45-minutes of me time.

Lulu Powers, celebrity caterer and author of Lulu Powers Food to Flowers

Cocktail Ornaments: Store cranberries in the freezer to adorn cocktails with. These frozen delights will give any gathering the holiday spirit.

Festive Details: Details as small as festive cocktail napkins can make a big impact, so be prepared for any occasion by keeping a few readily available.

Jack-of-all-Toppings: Always have a bag of Sargento Artisan Blends shredded Parmesan on hand. It is perfect on soup, pasta, salad, chicken and so much more.

Sally Horchow, Lifestyle and Trend Expert and co-author of The Art of Friendship

Be smelly! We often focus so much on festive looking & tasting decor, cocktails, and nibbles, but the olfactory sense can make the most impact. Brew some mulling spices on the stove, decorate with fragrant paperwhites, pick one candle scent to burn in bathrooms and corner tables, or bake some gingerbread cookies just before showtime.

Prep for your conversations. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by hosting and end up disappointed that you didn’t get a chance to truly connect with anyone. Looking at your guest list in advance and preparing a few things you’d like to learn and/or say can help you cut to the chase and be a more thoughtful host.

Mix stationary and passed hors d’oeuvres. It’s easy for you and fun for your guests to have a central place to gather round to eat, but giving yourself at least one hors d’oeuvre to pass gives you the perfect excuse to weave your way through the party and interact with every guest.

And what’s The Foodinista’s top trick? When in doubt, serve more wine—and then a little bit more.