27 January 2011

Where to Find the Perfect Mocha? The Answer's at Stumptown

Having left you all without a post for longer than I'd like to admit, I decided to use this snow day to share my most recent food adventures with you. I trekked through the nineteen inches of slushy snow on a cold day in New York to the dark warmth of The Ace Hotel's lobby. Yesterday I came here too, but without all the frozen puddles to wade through. I guess it shows what lengths I'm willing to go to get a good mocha and maybe betrays an addiction to finding the best -- it seems impossible to waste a meal on something less than perfect.

The music is lively and varied (Run-D.M.C., Django Reinhardt, The Beatles, Motown...). Behind a row of Macs, hip business execs, furiously at work, occasionally reach for a sip of their favorite drink. My coffee du jour was a large, dark, almost savory mocha made with Mast Brothers chocolate ($5), beautifully decorated with a foam leaf design and adorned with a ribbon of thick homemade whipped cream rosettes. To supplement this enormous caloric intake I added a muffin with chocolate chips ($3.50). The pastries are good, although sinfully rich. The coffees are perfect. The mocha has very little sweetness, making it possible to drink the large pint glass of coffee set before me. It's a real jump-start to my day.

Yesterday I enjoyed a medium latte ($4), a chocolate chunk cookie ($2.50) and a croissant filled with pastrami and sauerkraut ($5). The lattes and mochas are some of the best I've ever had, and the pastries are often unusual twists on rich pastry classics. If you feel like a morning treat, put on your hipster best, grab your Mac or a worn copy of Ulysses and take yourself out to Stumptown. You wont be disappointed.

20 January 2011

Garlic Two Ways: Roasted Garlic Dressing and Spicy Tomato Soup with Pan-Fried Garlic

Last night I was ready for a light meal at home. My family had just visited from Australia, and they generously took us out for dinner every night. It was fun to try a couple new-to-me restaurants (Umami Burger and Primitivo Wine Bistro), but my body was ready for a night of vegetables.

Soup and salad was just the thing. I decided on a simple Spicy Tomato Soup with Pan-Fried Garlic and turned to the blogs for salad inspiration. Lottie + Doof recently posted an intriguing recipe for a roasted garlic dressing adapted from Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini. I had found what I was searching for and my course was charted: an exciting night of garlic and vegetables lay ahead.

The roasted garlic is soft and melts into the dressing, infusing it with bold flavor. The dressing isn't wildly different from one using minced garlic, but I enjoyed that the garlic became part of the dressing, rather than merely a thing in the dressing.

The garlic takes about an hour in the oven, but requires no extra work, so it's easy to make while you're throwing together the rest of your meal, or writing those thank you cards you've been putting off from the holidays.

Cook's notes:
I made a few small changes to the recipe because I didn't have all the ingredients. I used:
sherry vinegar as a substitute for rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil instead of a mixture of olive oil and grapeseed oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper in place of Tobasco sauce

While the garlic was roasting, I made the soup. The acidity of the tomatoes gives it a zip that I played up with some cayenne pepper, then balanced out with some grated three-year Wisconsin cheddar cheese. It's simultaneously refreshing, warming and soothing. 

Spicy Tomato Soup with Pan-Fried Garlic, serves 2
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 head garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
pinch of dried mint
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 box (26.46 oz/750g) Pomi Chopped Tomatoes  -- any type of canned tomato will work but I prefer Pomi
1/4 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup grated three year aged cheddar cheese

+Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in soup pan over medium heat. Reserve 2 tablespoons minced garlic and add rest to pan. Cook until beginning to brown, then add seasonings except salt and pepper. Stirring occasionally, continue to cook until garlic is crisp and golden brown.

+Pour in tomatoes. Stir. Rinse Pomi box with the water and add to the tomato and spice mixture. Stir together. Once the soup begins to bubble, turn heat down and simmer, covered, about 15 to 20 minutes.

+Meanwhile, in a small pan, melt remaining butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add reserved 2 tablespoons garlic and fry until crisp and golden brown. 

+Next, grate cheese.

+Add salt and pepper to soup. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed, then ladle into two soup bowls. Top with grated cheese,  pan-fried garlic and butter and oil from the pan. Enjoy!

18 January 2011

An Afternoon in Iowa City: John's and Prarie Lights Bookstore

I spent Christmas with my family in Iowa City. We mostly stayed tucked away inside, playing games, eating amazing food that my aunt and uncle prepared and trying delicious wines and beers they'd selected to pair with the meals. We did, however, venture outside into the cold for one lovely, snowy walk and a tour of the University of Iowa's campus and a couple of the many independently owned shops.
Our first stop was John's Grocery Inc., the last family-owned corner grocery store in town. It's been around since 1948 and stocks a fabulous selection of liquor, beer and wine. The staff are all friendly and seem eager to assist, but some are more knowledgeable than others. Keep asking until you find someone who can answer your questions.

We asked several of the staff for their recommendations and ended up with William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (rich, complex, delicious), Pascal Doquet Grand Cru Blanc De Blanc (lovely tart finish), and a case of beers that we had paired with cheeses, pickled herring and prosciutto.

Mikkeller's Black Stout and Big Worse were the standouts of the beers. They blew our minds with the intensity and depth of flavors. Not for the faint-of-heart, but real showstoppers. The Mast Brothers chocolate bars complemented the chocolate and spices in the Black Stout. I had planned on bringing Mast Brothers to my family to share at Christmas, but turns out the now Brooklyn-based Mast brothers were born in Iowa City, so no need!

After stocking up on alcohol we headed downtown to Prairie Lights bookstore. In a town with the most highly rated creative writing program in the country, The Iowa Writers' Workshop, it's not a surprise to find such a fantastic bookstore. But it was a surprise to discover that their upstairs coffee shop serves Stumptown coffee (one of my favorite roasters in New York). I didn't have time to try anything, but they also offer a selection of beers and attractive pastries in a light-filled, open and inviting space.

We also made a couple visits to the New Pioneer Food Co-op which has organic groceries, prepared foods, a large selection of wines and beers and outstanding cakes. We tried the chocolate mouse, German chocolate, lemon and Irish cream cakes. All were excellent, although for three dark chocolate lovers the German chocolate was a bit too light and the cake not as dense or moist as we would have preferred.

Iowa City opened my eyes to some wonderful new tastes and experiences. When I hear of a Mikkeller tasting in LA, you can be sure I'll be there. Cheers!

13 January 2011

Tea Lattes at Urth Caffe

I live close to the Santa Monica Urth Cafe, the perfect spot to catch up with friends. Most of the tables are outside and the latte art is impressive -- they even make swans! Try the green tea latte with an order of pound cake, or any of the tea lattes on their own. Each is creamy and sweet with a hint of vanilla -- a terrific pick-me-up anytime of the day.

11 January 2011

Veggie Christmas Continues in the New Year: Roasted Acorn Squash with Chile Vinaigrette Recipe

Because I indulged in holiday treats a little more than I probably should have, I've decided to shed those extra pounds by declaring Veggie Christmas a year-long holiday. For weeks I've had an acorn squash lying around, staring me down, begging to be cooked. I finally listened and found a simple squash recipe in Gourmet Today.

The dish is full of balanced contrasts in flavors, textures and colors. The sweet squash, spicy chile and tart lime provide varied taste sensations. The squash is roasted until crispy on one side, offering an exciting alternative to its otherwise smooth and creamy flesh. The plate is vibrant with orange squash, green cilantro, and flecks of red hot chile.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Chile Vinaigrette; serves 4 as side
Adapted from Gourmet Today: More than 1000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen, Edited Ruth Reichl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)

1 acorn squash
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon lime juice
1-3 whole hot chiles, dried or fresh,  finely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

+Put racks in top and bottom thirds of oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

+Halve and seed squash. Remove squash ends. Cut in sections along ridges, about 1 inch at widest part.
+In large bowl, combine 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper and 2 teaspoons oil. Dip squash pieces into this mixture, making sure the pepper flakes stick to the squash.
+Place squash on cookie sheet with one cut side down, the other facing up.
+Roast on top rack 13 minutes, then transfer to lower rack until squash segments are golden brown on side facing down, about 25-35 minutes total time in oven.

+As the squash roasts, mince garlic and mash it with 1/4 teaspoon salt to form a paste.
+In a small bowl whisk together garlic paste, lime juice, cilantro and 3 tablespoons oil.

+Once squash is cooked, allow it to cool briefly. With a knife, remove peel.
+Arrange squash on serving plate and dress with chile vinaigrette. Serve with additional peppers for those who like it hot.

Cooking Notes:
I accidentally roasted the squash until the bottoms looked burned and almost cut off the brown part. Luckily I tried it first and found they were perfectly crunchy and tasted delicious as was.

10 January 2011

Journey to Alsace: 2008 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling with Bratwurst and Sauerkraut

I've been passionate about wine since I moved to San Francisco and discovered the truth of the Mark Twain attributed phrase: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." To escape the bone-chilling cold, my husband and I spent our weekends tasting wine in Napa and Sonoma. What started as a quest for sunshine quickly turned into a love affair with wine.

Ever since, I've been thirstily lapping up any wine I can find, with particular affinities for Pinot Noir, German Riesling and Champagne. Because my wine travels have been limited to California and Oregon (my honeymoon was in the Willamette), I've decided to travel the wine regions of the world through food and wine pairings sampled at home.

I'm beginning my wine journey in Alsace and will move on from there. First up are the generally dry Alsatian Rieslings, quite a departure from the sweet-balanced Spatlesen I'd grown accustomed to.

According to Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, grape varietal and shipper are the most important things to consider when selecting Alsatian wine. So far I've sampled 2008 Trimbach Riesling with a plate of goat cheeses, spicy acorn squash and kale with garlic and soy sauce; 2002 Chateau d'Orschwihr Riesling Enchenberg Vieux Thann with trout, endive and radishes; and last night I paired 2008 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling with sauerkraut and bratwurst (my extremely simplified version of the Alsatian choucroute garnie), pan-fried onions and cooked red cabbage.

With the Zind-Humbrecht and sausage pairing I finally understood the beauty of Alsatian wines. It was like tasting the culmination of hundreds of years of tradition. To say that I was excited about food, wine, and the representation of culture that one can find in their pairing would be a gross understatement. I was in ecstasy.

2008 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling
100% Riesling
$19.99 at Wine House

Straw yellow in color with light-medium body. Crisp with delicate aromatics of honey, straw and flowers. Sharp acidity is balanced with fruit and minerality. Beautiful when paired with sausage, but I wouldn't buy this to sip alone.

07 January 2011

Adventure No. 2 -- Contemporary Art and The Best Ice Cream Ever in Santa Monica

Spicy chocolate and vanilla ice creams in a chocolate cone at Sweet Rose Creamery.
I was too excited to wait to take a bite!

Last month I needed an adventure, so went to Sweet Rose Creamery (aka "my happy place") and Bergamot Station Arts Center, two of my favorite local places to clear my head when I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed.

As the sun was peeking out, I emerged from my apartment, the first time in what felt like weeks, and headed to my happy place, which happens to be in the adorable Brentwood Country Mart. The mart feels like a chic country market with restaurants surrounding an outdoor fire; stores selling candy, coffee, clothing, jewelry, home decor and books; a shoe repair and even a post office. Just a little bit of everything you'd need in one spot.

I browsed Diesel bookstore and Calypso, then set off for ice cream. I never thought I'd find store-bought ice cream as good as homemade, but Sweet Rose Creamery is that good. It's so good that I'd eat it for every meal if I could. Seriously. My husband and I had a phase when we were going three times a week. We didn't tire of it, just realized we'd need to hire a personal trainer if we kept it up, but our personal training money was being spent on ice cream.

What makes Sweet Rose special, in addition to their nearly perfect ice cream, is that they use organic, seasonal, farmer's market ingredients. They have a variety of rotating unusual flavors that are pulled off with success -- quince with Manchego swirl was surprisingly delicious -- and the classics are also done well -- chocolate (perfect), salted caramel (also perfect), vanilla (for some reason I like it when I eat it in a cup, find it lacking when I have it in a cone) -- and they have a diverse selection of nondairy options -- toasted almond, kiwi sorbet, coconut lime sorbet (I'm usually not a fan of sorbet, but this was excellent!) -- and the fruit flavors are also incredible -- try the blueberry with blueberry bits or peaches and cream.

The chocolate and regular cones are also amazing, part of the experience, not just a vehicle for transferring ice cream to mouth. The sundaes are a rich treat best shared, and the ice cream sandwiches great but a bit too small to satisfy and the cookie can distract from the main event.

I'm always tempted by the individual ice cream pies and bonbons, but can't seem to break away from the cone. You really can't go wrong in your selection, but try the flavors before you choose; the chocolate can vary in quality and while it's usually one of the best things in the world, twice it's been a bit off, which can lead to a disappointing cone experience.

After savoring my spicy chocolate (perfect hint of spice, deep chocolate, super creamy) and vanilla (next time I'd go with salted caramel) ice creams in a chocolate cone, I drove to Bergamot Station.

One of my favorite Bergamot galleries, Patrick Painter, Inc., is closed until February, but I enjoyed Rachel Lachowicz's solo show about feminine identity at Shoshana Wayne and Anish Kapoor's bright etchings at Greenfield Sacks, then headed home, refreshed, renewed and ready for the rest of my day.
 The sky from Bergamot Station.

06 January 2011

Post-Holiday Health Kick: 130 Calorie Sugarless Almond Banana Yogurt Muffin Recipe

After weeks of feasting on holiday sweets, I craved sugar-free treat, so adapted Mark Bittman's recipe for Basic Muffins in How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food. Rather than make something so healthy I can't enjoy it, I've discovered that by cutting one not-so-good-for-me ingredient at a time, I can maintain the flavors and textures and still feel like I'm indulging.

Here I cut refined sugar, but don't skimp on saturated fats. The cornmeal and almonds add a nice crunch to the outside while the yogurt keeps the inside moist. These are good hot, but I like them even better at room temperature. Pair these with a cappuccino for a light morning delight.

130 Calorie Sugarless Almond Banana Yogurt Muffins, makes 12 medium muffins
Adapted from Mark Bittman
1 cup almond meal or 1/2 cup whole raw almonds pulsed in food processor until sand-like in texture
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
2-3 very ripe bananas - the riper the better! mash (yield about 1 1/4 cup mashed)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
2 1/2 tablespoons egg whites (or one large or extra large egg)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
dash of cinnamon 

+Preheat oven to 400 degrees 
+Lightly butter twelve-compartment muffin tin
+Combine dry ingredients
+In separate bowl whisk together wet ingredients
+Create well in center of dry ingredients; pour wet ingredients into well and mix until all dry ingredients are moistened
+Use measuring cup to fill muffin compartments (each will be about 2/3 full)
+Bake muffins about 20-30 minutes, or until browned and fork inserted in center comes out clean