Archive for the 'restaurants' Category
I know, it’s been rather… a while. But there have been oh so many reasons for it. And I mean many.
I’ve semi-permanently-for-the-time-being-at-least-the-next-year-maybe-more relocated to Northern California for my dissertation research. I’m staying at my parents’ house for the foreseeable future, as a broke grad student sometimes must, since I still have my apartment in Southern California. I’m away from my own kitchen, with its familiar appliances, equipment, accoutrement, and the perfect light in which to take photographs. I’m not cooking and baking only for myself nearly as much, or for me and one other person, but instead for me and my parents (as a token of my undying gratitude for their endless generosity) or for me and a very large group of friends. My routine and my own “way” have been totally thrown off. My stomach has been… well, you can guess how my stomach has been. And there have been some other, bigger, more personal changes that have kept me quieter and sadder than I might normally be.
But I’m still around, and I think it’s time to call it a comeback.
I don’t have too many photos of food for you at the moment, but I do have a few tales to tell. Of the 300+ cookies I baked for a reception for a friend’s new chamber music recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Of the collard greens in bacon recipe I made up for my parents. Of the eating out I’ve been doing now and again, here in the land of endless restaurants (but sadly, no sushi that compares to the sushi of Orange County). Of the “family” meals my friends and I have here, on a fairly regular basis, when we come together to cook, eat, drink, and laugh.
The other tales, the more personal and less food-related ones? I’m telling some (but not all) of those too, over at Oh Hey Great.
So let’s not waste any more time. Last night I went for dinner with my folks at a restaurant in West Berkeley my mom’s been dying to try. It’s called Maritime East and is the East Bay sister restaurant to Café Maritime in San Francisco. Like a total boob, I left my camera at home, which was a huge mistake because it was one of the better meals I’ve had in recent weeks. Not as good as, say, Riva Cucina but faultless and delectable just the same.
We shared most everything. This included what may be the single best burger I’ve ever had in my life, a cheeseburger with Neuske’s bacon and avocado and shoestring onion rings, loaded onto the ideal bun–soft but substantial enough to withstand the burger and all its juices without disintegrating, perfectly toasted, and just the right flavor to complement the burger. Which, did I mention, was cooked perfectly medium rare. The burger also came with fries (onion rings AND fries!). The onion rings were meant to be eaten as part of the burger, but my dad took them off and we shared them with the fries. By shared I mean inhaled.
We also had the “deviled” Dungeness crab linguini with a poached egg and Meyer lemon confit. The sauce was both rich and delicate, tomato-y and zesty, and had a kick of spice to it that came in at the end. It was creamy without being heavy, not coating the tongue but bewitching it with a complex layering of flavors.
Finally, we shared one of the small pizzas from the wood burning oven–a disc of chewy, blistered dough topped with artichokes, goat cheese, tomatoes, and za’atar. There may have been a few golden raisins nestled amidst the white puffs of cheese. Unfortunately, it was hard to slow down and examine it at length: TOO GOOD MUST EAT NOW. (I admit, we took half the pizza home and I had it for lunch today. It was just as good cold. Any remaining raisins had sunken in and once again, I was too entranced with the pizza to pull it apart.)
Oh. Did I mention? The side dish? That we should have gotten two or three orders of? Brussels and pea sprout hash. Please read those words again one more time: Brussels. And. Pea. Sprout. Hash. Let me explain that for you: Pea sprouts! (Or pea tips, if you prefer.) With Brussels sprouts! That have been all chopped up! And then sautéed together with maybe some garlic and I don’t know what else except maybe magic.
So in conclusion, friends and readers and anyone else here, if you live near Maritime East, you should go.
Meanwhile, I’ll be here, reading the comments you’ve left (they totally make my day, by the way, and make me wish I could go out for coffee with some of you), forcing myself back into a healthier dietary regimen (regime!), writing again, and most likely baking up some treats for my friends and neighbors along the way. If you happen to be one of those, drop me a line. Hell, drop me a line anyway.
Last night a very wonderful, sweet, and generous certain someone treated me to a tremendous celebratory meal at Ikko, one of my favorite restaurants in Orange County. Not only is Ikko one of best sushi restaurants I’ve ever been to in my life, it’s one of my favorite restaurants period. Interestingly, some of the best sushi I’ve ever had has been here in Orange County, better than anything I’ve eaten in the Bay Area, New York, L.A., or DC. Granted, I’ve never been to Nobu, but the quality of the fish I’ve eaten in the past four years and the creativity and presentation have been phenomenal.
For instance, it was here in O.C. that I discovered my love for uni, or sea urchin. A lot of people, even dedicated sushi eaters, are not fans of uni, with its vaguely gelatinous, blobby yellow appearance, perched precariously atop its wee bed of rice. But when I finally tried a piece of uni – and I mean fresh and high quality uni – it was a transcendent experience. It was as if someone had taken the ocean and turned it into the creamiest, sweet-saltiest custard. I placed sushi in my mouth and the uni literally melted away, the sea seeming to explode over my taste buds. The rice was more than a platform: Each individual grain also became coated in rich flavor as the urchin dissolved on my tongue, creating a progressively more textured uni experience. I was hooked.
At Ikko last night we had uni in a different presentation: laid on beds of thinly sliced, tender scallops, topped with black truffle and salt. It was captivating. Among our other appetizers were sea cucumber in a briny, faintly juniper nectar; a roasted onion topped with freshly-herbed cream cheese and large salmon roe; a ricotta-tofu mixture drizzled with oil and toasted soba seeds. We found ourselves entranced by raw wild salmon topped with thin slices of ginger, wild baby Amberjack, and wild small baby Yellowtail. Every time we looked up, a new dish was dazzling us.
And guess who forgot her camera.
So to make it up to you, I baked brownies.
No, they’re not IBS-friendly. No, they’re not gluten-free. No, they’re not in anyway as gorgeous and mind-blowing and creative as the dishes we had last night. But they are made using my favorite brownie recipe of all time. They are the richest of the rich, the fudgiest, crackliest, most decadent brownies I know of. They will make your friends and family fall silent in awe when you present them at parties, dinners, and as gifts this holiday season. And they are from the 1980 version of Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, which I stole from my mom (thanks mom!). I mean, I am trying to make it up to you the best I can here.
I love me some Maida Heatter. She’s part of the reason I bake, I think. Two of her cookbooks have been in my consciousness for most of my life, so I’ve always connected baking desserts with Maida Heatter. And really, what better person to guide you as you learn to bake? Her books feature recipes both indulgent and useful (sometimes both at the same time); her writing, while not as exacting as some authors, is simultaneously informative, helpful, conversational, and comforting; and she’s a baking legend. I don’t even know what her updated cookbooks are like. I’ve been reading the ones my mom has (or, um, had) for as long as I can remember, and they’ve never failed. Which is why I’m eying Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, the other book still on my mom’s shelf. Did I just say that in my out loud voice?
But you want to know more about these brownies. And who can blame you. How’s about I let Maida tell you herself?
These are the biggest, thickest, gooiest, chewiest, darkest, sweetest, mostest-of-the most chocolate bars with an almost wet middle and a crisp-crunchy top. It is best to bake them a day before–they can not be cut into bars when they are too fresh.
Does the woman exaggerate? No, sirree, she does NOT. I am telling you straight, these brownies will knock you silly. We are talking serious chocolate here, my lovelies. Chocolate for days. Even real chocoholics will have to take a break midway through a brownie and revel in the presence of a true chocola-teer. If there is someone you need to hear positivity from, cram one of these babies in his or her mouth, and you won’t hear a negative peep for at least 10 minutes. They’ll be gobsmacked.
This is a recipe that has vanilla and almond and espresso, meaning those of us who like to tinker don’t have to do a darn thing. I recommend cutting these into smaller brownies, because they are so, so rich. Oh, and see how she says you can’t cut them when they are too fresh? She repeats that warning again in the recipe. Please do as she says and not as I did. Remember: She is the expert. I am the impatient blogger. It is much easier to cut them the next day, after they’ve had a night to rest in the fridge.
Of course, that assumes you can wait that long, what with your house smelling like Willy Wonka’s factory. Do what you can and listen to the nice lady. Maybe go out for some sushi?
Palm Beach Brownies
From Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts (1980)
16 huge or 24 more extra-large brownies
8 ounces (8 squares) unsweetened chocolate [Leah says: I have used both Baker's and Ghirardelli, with excellent results]
8 ounces (2 sticks) sweet butter
5 eggs (graded large or extra-large) [Leah says: I use large]
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons dry instant espresso or other powdered (not granular) instant coffee
3 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
8 ounces (2 generous cups) walnuts halves or large pieces [Leah says: Optional. I don't usually like nuts in brownies, so I have never added these. Although I bet they would be good here, because these are so damn rich]
1. Adjust rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 x 2-inch pan as follows: Invert the pan, cover it with a long piece of aluminum foil, and with your hands press down on the foil around the sides and the corners to shape it like the pan. Remove the foil. Turn the pan right side up, and place the foil in the pan. Very carefully (without tearing it) press the foil into place in the pan. Now butter the foil with soft or melted butter. The easiest way is to place a piece of butter in the pan, place the pan in the oven while it is warming up, and when the butter is melted use a pastry brush to spread it all over the sides and bottom of the foil. Set the prepared pan aside.
2. Place the chocolate and the butter in the top of a large double boiler over hot water on moderate heat, or in a 4 to 6 cup heavy saucepan over very low heat. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and the butter are melted. Stir to mix. Remove from the heat and set aside.
3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the vanilla, almond extract, salt, dry instant coffee, and sugar at high speed for 10 minutes. On low speed add the chocolate mixture and beat only until mixed. Then add the flour and again beat only until mixed. Remove from the mixer and stir in the nuts.
4. Turn into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35 minutes, reversing the pan front to back as necessary during baking to insure even baking. Cover loosely with foil for about the last half of the baking time to prevent over browning. At the end of 35 minutes the cake will have a thick, crisp crust on the top, but if you insert a toothpick into the middle it will come out wet and covered with chocolate. Nevertheless, it is done. Do not bake it anymore.
5. Remove the cake from the oven and let stand at room temperature until cool. Then cover with a rack or a cookie sheet and invert. Remove the pan and the foil lining. Cover with a cookie sheet and invert again, leaving the cake right side up.
6. It is best to refrigerate the cake overnight before cutting (at room temperature it is too sticky to cut). Use a serrated French bread knife. It will be necessary to wash and dry the blade several times while cutting. First cut the cake in half, cutting through the long sides. If the cake was baked correctly, the edges will be too dark and dry; trim about 1/4 inch or so as necessary from the edges.
7. The cake will be 1 1/4 inches thick. Cut into 24 huge Brownies, or 32 large ones. (See Note.)
8. Either wrap the Brownies individually in clear cellophane, aluminum foil, or wax paper, or package them in an airtight container. Refrigerate and serve cold.
NOTE: I cut the Brownies into 24 bars, and then often, just before serving, I cut each bar in half the long way.
[See? How can you not love her? She capitalizes Brownie.]
Earlier this evening I went out to run a few errands. There’s a feeling in the air, the feeling of that season, and I could definitely sense it. A sense of urgency, a sense of loneliness even when hundreds of people are about, a sense that while a quiet evening to one’s self is nice, it’s also nice to be out and about. Then, mid-errand, my plans for the evening were canceled in a very last-minute fashion. So I got in my car and headed toward home to cook something for dinner.
And then I said: Screw it. I’m taking myself on a date.
I cook a lot, and it’s often for myself. A very wonderful and lovely person asked, in a comment on yesterday’s post, whether I cook all this wonderful food that I write about just for me, and if I do, then hooray, because she always used to tell people, “Hey, cooking just for YOU isn’t so hard and anyway, you ought to fuss over yourself and treat yourself to some tasty food.” The same goes out to all of you: Much of the stuff you read about here – except for things like that big duck dinner, and the baked goods that I often give away or make for special occasions – I make for me. I might share leftovers with a certain someone, if he asks very nicely (and he does). But when I decide to try a recipe, or to make a mess of my kitchen, it’s usually for myself. It might mean I have to cut a recipe in half, or make it up as I go along to create a single serving, or have a hell of a lot of leftovers. It might mean I’m the only one who celebrates a triumph, but it also means I’m the only one who suffers when good intentions go very, very bad. None of those things are at all a problem, and when you’re eating by yourself, you ought to be eating something delicious, something crafted with care. If you take care of others, why not take care of yourself?
So my date with myself was along the same lines. I’d been cooking a lot lately, but it was time for a break, and I guess I wasn’t in the mood to be at home. I enjoy going out to dine alone sometimes, so I went to a friend’s restaurant, where I know as much care and curiosity and love go into the food as it does in my own kitchen. It’s a raw restaurant here in town, called 118 Degrees. The food is labor-intensive, innovative, fresh, and healthy. It’s also an adventure in wonderful new flavors and textures. Along with the lighter fare, there are dishes on Chef Jenny’s menu that are straight-up comforting and filling – and that don’t give me a moment’s concern afterward. Oh, the joy of feeling stuffed, yet happy and not sick!
I neglected to take photos, because I was hungry and not thinking about blogging (forgive me, it was a momentary lapse). But I can tell you I combined the light with the comforting: half a Caesar salad of mixed romaine lettuces, avocado, capers, and nut cheese, topped with dulse dressing, plus heirloom tomatoes served with warm pignolia topping. Who knew raw foods could be so rich? I was going to get dessert (cappuccino crème brulée with caramel), but I sat talking for so long with Jenny and with Kate, one of the servers, that I had to let them go home. I resolved to return soon for the crème brulée and instead got an apple cinnamon fig pecan cookie to go. Larabar, watch out.
Beyond enjoying a deeply satisfying meal, and coming away feeling simultaneously sated and healthy, my solo date tonight reminded me again what a magical conduit food is. It’s not about famous chefs with wild personalities, the next big whatever, or what’s in/out. It’s more than new recipes and ingredients and ideas. It’s also about how food brings us all to the table. Once we’re there, we find so much to enjoy and learn about: flavors, personalities, combinations, lives, new friends. It’s about connecting with someone over the conflict of loving food/food as the enemy, and then having learned to think not in terms of what’s forbidden, but instead of what an endless world of possibilities is out there. And that world of possibilities starts with you.
So don’t forget to take care of you: Fuss over yourself like you would any guest or dining companion. Create meals worth eating. Take yourself on a date. It doesn’t have to be every day, but do come to the table and hang out with yourself. You are great company, my dear, so please reward yourself with some fabulous food.