The Pitter-Patter of Carrot and Parsnip Soup

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Carrot and Parsnip Soup

It’s raining in Los Angeles! As it turns out that’s Carrot and Parsnip Soup weather. Naturally, the much-needed rain inspired me to cook. So I set to work, surrounded by a warm kitchen and the rumbling of the rain. I chose Carrot and Parsnip Soup simply because its simple. Besides I had piles of carrots and parsnips leftover from a planned Thanksgiving side dish I nixed. Somehow I just knew there was something more important in store for those vegetables and that turns out to be this soup.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how welcome the rain is here in California. While the city hills where I live were not directly affected by the latest tragedies, we’ve been on edge and feel great sadness. Believe it or not, soup helps me through the complicated emotions we all feel at times like these.

Which is why I’m particularly happy about the rain. It built slowly all day yesterday, came down heavy last night, and as I write this it’s beginning to wane mid-day. The best part is, you could feel it in the air. You knew it was coming. By nightfall, I began to hear the pings and pitter-patters on the copper awning outside my kitchen window. It made me happy to hear the soft landing of so many little drops. Did they know how welcome they were? Did they feel the gratitude of millions of people in this parched state? Let’s hope the rain doesn’t lead to more problems… GREG

Carrot and Parsnip Soup

Helen’s (Always) Essential Guide to Italian (White) Wine

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Vini D'Italia

The Essential Guide to Italian Wine by Daniele Cernilli is an essential resource for wine professionals, students, and enthusiasts of Italian wines. This trustworthy and easy to understand guide is accurate and exhaustive without using abstruse terms known just to experts and gives clarity to the extremely broad panorama of Italian wines, selecting those that most represent their winery (from the historic to the most interesting newcomers).

Essential Guide to Italian Wine

Earlier this year, I took a solo bucket list trip to Rome, Florence and Venice. It was everything I had ever hoped or dreamed and more… but I caught the cold most of Italy was coughing through during Easter. It took hold during the “Wine Tasting in Tuscany” portion of my trip, so I ended up drinking more herb tea than wine – crushing, when you think that in recent years, I have found myself loitering more and more in the Italian sections of my favorite wine stores. Therefore, I was ecstatic to be invited along with Ken to The Essential Guide to Italian Wine tasting event at the Wine House in West Los Angeles (Thank you, Allison and Please The Palate who invited us that day).

My Italian wine motto: Reds = Always! Whites = Bargains!

Seriously, once you branch out of Pinot Grigio / Soave territory, you can step into a fascinating world of gooseberries, lemongrass, wet stone, salinity, hazelnuts, Linden blossoms and much more. Italy is brimming with exciting and divinely unfamiliar white varietals.

Offida Pecorino DOCG 2016 from Villa Angela (Velenosi)Our very first sip of the event was a revelation, Offida Pecorino DOCG 2016 from Villa Angela (Velenosi) in Marche. I better knew pecorino as the cheese used in the traditional Roman pasta dish, cacio e pepe, but apparently, this grape varietal produces an increasingly popular wine in trendy urban Italy. On the nose, there is a kiss of acacia blossom and a tickle of thyme and sage. The palate bursts with lemony freshness, as ample acidity floats over a wet stone spine in a juicily balanced dance of minerals, flowers, and herbs. Superbly crisp and food friendly, it immediately made me want to drink it alongside a plate of cacio e pepe (in Rome). Conveniently, The Wine House sells this wine for $16.99 (Bargain!) so Ken and I were able to purchase a bottle each to take home after the event.

Vorberg Pinot Bianca Riserva Alto Adige Terlano DThe last white I experienced before switching to reds, was Vorberg Pinot Bianca Riserva Alto Adige Terlano DOC 2015. This is a big, bold, beautiful wine from the northern tip of Italy. After an afternoon of spitting both red and white wines, this is the wine I chose to swallow before heading home. Delicious. The winemaker notes are so spot on, that I am going to share straight from the horse’s mouth:

“The multifaceted aroma of this wine derives from a combination of ripe fruit, including honeydew melon, white peach, pear and Golden Delicious apple, together with the aromas of quince jelly and dried fruit such as pear, orange and pineapple, on the one hand, and graphite notes and a hint of jasmine with a mineral touch on the other.

The interplay of fruity aromatic and salty components is repeated on the palate, where the soft and creamy elements gain greater strength in a wine with a lingering, firmly minerally and spicy character on the aftertaste.

Ideal in combination with a spicy fish soup, mussels in a pepper sauce and spaghetti allo scoglio as well as mussels au gratin, grilled ink fish and poached char; also one of the few good combinations with artichokes alla romana; excellent with mature Pecorino, a mature Parmesan and mostarda, and Tête de Moine.”

How can your mouth not be watering after reading the above? This is a serious white and the price point of around $42.00 is still a bargain for wine of this quality.

Perhaps I need to amend my Italian wine motto to: Reds = Always! Whites = Always! HELEN

Essential Guide to Italian Wine Essential Guide to Italian Wine

Pork Cheeks and Movie Stars

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Soy and Vinegar Braised Pork Cheeks

My partner Ken’s massage therapist is right across the street from one of L.A.’s great butcher shops, McCall’s Meat and Fish Co. So he’ll often come home (freshly tenderized himself) with a paper-wrapped bundle of meaty intrigue. Sure they have great lamb chops and all the expected beastial staples, but we go there to find more unusual cuts. McCall’s is also one of those uniquely Los Angeles experiences that’s hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t live here. You see it’s something of a celebrity magnet, but people don’t go there to gawk at celebrities they go there to pretend they don’t recognize celebrities. “Such a pretty girl”, the man in front of you might say of the liver-loving Oscar winner in front of him. So it was that Ken came home with a big bag of pork cheeks (oink-oink) and celebrity gossip (wink-wink).

Soy and Vinegar Braised Pork Cheeks

Yep, they’re exactly what you think they are… the pork cheeks I mean.

Unctuous and tender, pork cheeks are less popular than they used to be but I don’t know why. Pork cheeks – cooked low and slow nestled amongst the umami notes of soy sauce and sharp hints of cider vinegar – are meltingly tender and completely delicious. They are also quite affordable (even at McCall’s). Read the recipe and make plenty of time for cooking. I wouldn’t attempt to hurry this one. If time is an issue, go for a pork chop like the “you know who” rock star I like to pretend I don’t see standing right in front of me. GREG

Pork Cheeks Soy and Vinegar Braised Pork Cheeks Soy and Vinegar Braised Pork Cheeks

It’s Pomodori Scoppiati Season

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Pomodori Scoppiati (Exploded Cherry Tomato Sauce)

Maybe this is just an L.A. thing, but here it is November and we’ve still got cherry tomatoes hanging around. I see them at the market and I spy them through the backyard fences of my neighbors. Their gardens may be spent and drab but there always seems to be a cherry or grape tomato vine flourishing along a warm, sunny wall even as our nights get chilly. The same goes for the farmers market. Most of the showy summer tomatoes have been devoured, but diminutive cherries still beckon in an array of colors. I’m bringing a panful of these survivors to their bursting point by scorching them with garlic, herbs, and enough good olive oil to make an unctuous sauce. The combination pairs perfectly with a simple plate of fresh fettuccine. It’s what the Italians would call Pomodori Scoppiati, exploded tomatoes.

Cherry Tomatoes

Pomodori Scoppiati

Tomatoes. Of all the seasonal produce we look forward to each year none inspires the same cultish devotion as summer tomatoes. It seems like just yesterday I was pushing my way to the front of the stalls at the Hollywood Farmers Market to get my giddy hands on the first of the good summer tomatoes. Inevitably I’d bring home more than we could eat, but still, I enjoyed having the multi-shaped, multi-colored beauties litter the windowsill. Then, as summer rolled along I began to tire of feeding the fruit flies $4 tomatoes. About this time I also began to notice that the tables at my favorite vendor’s booths seemed to sway under the weight of so many boxes of ripe fruit that they began to smell almost boozy in their overripe abundance. So I turned my attention to other delights forgetting how fleeting summer tomatoes can be. Now its November and I miss the August and September tomato’s dizzying profusion. Fortunately, there’s still a dwindling selection of grape and cherry-sized tomatoes available and I’m determined not to make the same mistake twice. Which means I consider this the height of Pomodori Scoppiati (exploded cherry tomato) season.

Pomodori Scoppiati. This isn’t necessarily a recipe – it’s more of an idea. Start with a heavy skillet, some oil, and garlic. Add the cherry tomatoes and watch them burst – releasing the juice which mixes with the olive oil to create a rich, silky sauce. This preparation is from Puglia where Pomodori Scoppiati is usually served as a condimento (relish-like side dish) alongside meat or fish or as a building block for other dishes. However, I like Pomodori Scoppiati tossed with pasta. Spaghetti is traditional, but I prefer to twirl thick ribbons of silky fresh fettuccine around my fork – catching the sauce in a most satisfying mouthful. GREG

Cherry Tomatoes

Pomodori Scoppiati (Exploded Cherry Tomato Sauce)

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Adapted from Rachel RoddyPublished
Pomodori Scoppiati (Exploded Cherry Tomato Sauce)

Ingredients

  • 2 pound whole, fresh cherry tomatoes
  • 2-3 clove garlic
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt (plus more for pasta water)
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3-4 large fresh basil leaves (thinly sliced, optional)
  • 1 pound dried or fresh pasta (of your choosing)

Directions

Remove stems from the tomatoes and wash and dry them. Peel and gently crush the garlic with the back of a knife so the cloves break but remain intact.

Select an ample, heavy-bottomed skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Warm the olive oil and garlic in the skillet over medium-low heat then cook gently so the garlic infuses the oil, sizzles, but doesn’t brown. Remove the garlic.

Add the tomatoes, salt, oregano and crushed red pepper flakes (if using) and stir until well coated. Increase the heat to medium. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, shaking the pan every now and then until most of the tomatoes have “exploded” and released some of their juice. Feel free to use the back of a wooden spoon to squash them a bit if necessary. Stir in the basil, if using.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to a boil, add some salt, then stir in the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a little cooking water. Transfer the drained pasta into the sauce, stir, adding a little cooking water if it feels dry. Serve warm.

Pan-Seared Mushroom Toasts

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Pan-Seared Mushroom Toasts

You should learn to make pan seared mushroom. It’s the classic way to cook mushrooms because it brings out their earthy flavors. Sure it’s easy to default to sautéed mushrooms, and I often do. Still, if I plan ahead I think it’s worth the extra bit of patience to go ahead and sear the mushrooms before the sauté comes into play. I’ve used these pans-seared mushrooms to top toasted brioche slathered in a triple cream Délice de Bourgogne cheese. Basically, I’ve created a mashup of recipes from two chefs I admire, Naomi Pomeroy (mushrooms) and Kristen Kish (toasts).

But the real inspiration came from the beautiful shiitake and oyster mushrooms Ken brought home from the Hollywood Farmers Market.

oyster mushroomsShiitake Mushrooms

Pan-Seared Mushroom Toasts with Délice de Bourgogne

I like Pomeroy’s method for seared mushroom very much (Kish’s method is similar) and have adopted the technique for almost every mushroom recipe I come across. I love a chef who takes as much care with vegetables as with meat and seafood. And I don’t mean just with salads either. I mean taking the time to demonstrate a focus on the technique of cooking a particular vegetable in a way that makes it shine on the plate. I can imagine mushrooms cooked this meticulously not only served on toasts, but also tossed with pasta or quinoa with olive oil and Parmesan, or served more simply alongside grilled steak or chicken.

The success of any of these ideas lies in cooking the mushrooms well, and by that I mean seared. You need to allow enough space in the pan for the mushrooms to release their moisture and begin to develop some caramelization. The pan-seared mushrooms take only about 10 minutes to cook; make sure the pan is nice and hot when you add them so that they sear right away. Once they have begun to sweat you can turn down the heat a bit and add the other ingredients. Seasoning after the searing is a smart tip, otherwise, the salt interferes with the searing process because the moisture is released too quickly. Finishing with a splash of sherry vinegar brings out the natural earthiness.

Yes, the mushrooms are the star in these Seared Mushroom Toasts but the lush cow’s milk triple cream Délice de Bourgogne cheese is worth mentioning too. It melts on the tongue like whipped butter but its acidic note keeps this unctuous cheese from being too cloying. GREG

Mushroom Toast

Pan-Seared Mushroom Toasts with Délice de Bourgogne

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 12Source Kristen Kish and Naomi PomeroyPublished
Mushroom Toast

Ingredients

  • 1 pound assorted wild mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil (divided)
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 2 clove garlic (peeled and smashed, divided)
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme (divided)
  • 4 teaspoon sherry vinegar (divided)
  • 4 tablespoon unsalted butter (at room temperature, divided)
  • 6 slice brioche (halved)
  • 8 ounce Délice de Bourgogne cheese (or other triple cream cheese)
  • chopped parsley (as needed for garnish)
  • sliced pickeled pearl onions (as needed for garnish)
  • chopped frisee (as needed for garnish)
  • chopped chives (as needed for garnish)
  • fresh lemon juice (for drizzling)
  • extra-virgin olive oil (for drizzling)

Directions

Tear or cut any large mushrooms into quarters and the rest in half. Leave the small mushrooms whole.

In a heavy cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until the surface is rippling but not smoking. Add half of the mushrooms in as close to a single layer as possible and sear, undisturbed until the mushrooms have released their liquid and it begins to evaporate, about 3 minutes. At this point season lightly with salt and pepper then lower the heat to medium. Add a smashed garlic clove, and sauté the mushrooms, moving them around, for 6 to 7 minutes, until they are beginning to color on the edges and the moisture has mostly evaporated. Add a thyme sprig, and 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar and cook one more minute. All of the mushrooms should be soft and tender with no spongy quality or rawness to them. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a medium bowl. Pick out the thyme sprig and the garlic and discard. Wipe the pan out with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining oil, mushrooms, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, vinegar, and 1 more tablespoon butter.

Set the mushrooms aside to come to room temperature.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F. Place brioche slices in a single layer on a wire rack set inside a baking sheet. Bake in the heated oven until lightly toasted, about 5-6 minutes per side. Watch them closely. Brush all the slices on one side evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons softened butter.

Spread cheese evenly over brioche toasts. Spoon mushroom mixture evenly over toasts; garnish with parsley, pickled onion slices, frisée, and chives. Drizzle with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil.

Dorie Greenspan’s Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies Just For Me

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rye-cranberry chocolate-chunk cookies

I’m here today with a sweet treat. I know desserts are crowd pleasers, so you could see these cookies as a peace-offering – or maybe just an apology. The last time I presented something sweet the bees were buzzing and the birds were chirping. It was a time of renewal. What calendar watchers would call spring. Now its autumn and I’m left wondering where summer went. Why didn’t a burger post happen? Or coleslaw? Shouldn’t I have churned up ice cream in an inventive flavor? These things used to be my seasonal rituals. However, this summer I began to feel my blog slipping away from me. Or maybe I mean me slipping away from it. Anyway, I’m hoping to sweeten my little blog (and my place in the blogosphere) by turning to cookies, Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies to be exact.

We’re all busy. We’ve all got our stuff. My stuff involves caregiving for my partner’s elderly mother. We’re in a particularly trying phase of life here. I hesitate to call it the end-phase (because I don’t believe that it is) but there is certainly a slowing down of routines. Dressing is a big chore. A walk down the hall takes two rest stops when it used to take one. Little things like meals can take a whole afternoon. So as the calendar year closes I find myself carefully choosing the activities I call my own.

Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies

Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies

This week I chose baking. And I thank Mokonuts Cafe and Bakery and Dorie Greenspan for just the right inspiration. Greenspan has a charming story in the New York Times about how she discovered these Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies. I’ll let you read that on you’re own. But I promise it will make you want to board a plane for Paris before the last paragraph. If only I could…

What caught my attention in this recipe was the ingredient list: rye flour, poppy seeds, and flaky sea salt. These are savory ingredients that become sweetly complex when paired with cranberries and chocolate chunks. You might be tempted to call her cookie just another version of a Chocolate Chip Cookie, but you’d be shortchanging the appeal by more than a dollar. Filled with shards of melted chocolate and laced with pinpoints of poppy seeds it’s the texture that separates these cookies from the other cookies in the jar. They’re baked at 425 degrees F and are deeply browned. They’re imperfect to the point of craggy and would never be mistaken for store-bought. This recipe makes just 15 cookies so these cookies are big (mine weighed 54 grams each before baking). Which is another appealing aspect in my opinion. While these Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies are indeed slightly savory – they’re still the sweet treat I promised myself. GREG

Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies

Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 15Source Dorie GreenspanPublished

My dough divided in fifteen 54 gram balls before baking.

chocolate-chunk cookies

Ingredients

  • 130 gram medium rye flour (I used Bob's Red Mill dark rye flour)
  • 85 gram all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 140 gram unsalted butter (at cool room temperature)
  • 100 gram granulated sugar
  • 100 gram light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 50 gram poppy seeds
  • 80 gram moist, plump dried cranberries
  • 113 gram bittersweet chocolate (chopped into chunks)
  • flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Directions

Whisk together the rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, sea salt, and baking soda; set aside.

Working with a mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment, if you have one), beat the butter and both sugars together on medium speed for 3 minutes, until blended; scrape the bowl as needed. Add the egg, and beat 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer, add the dry ingredients all at once, then pulse the mixer a few times to begin blending the ingredients. Beat on low speed until the flour almost disappears, and then add the poppy seeds, cranberries, and chocolate. Mix only until incorporated. Scrape the bowl to bring the dough together.

Have a baking sheet lined with parchment, foil or plastic wrap nearby. Divide the dough into 15 pieces, roll each piece into a ball between your palms and place on the baking sheet. Cover, and refrigerate the dough overnight or for up to 3 days. (If you’d like, you can wrap the balls airtight and freeze them for up to 1 month. Defrost them overnight in the fridge before baking.)

When you’re ready to bake, center a rack in the oven, and heat it to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Arrange the cookies on the sheet, leaving 2 inches between each cookie (work with half a batch at a time and keep the remaining balls of dough in the refrigerator until needed). Sprinkle each cookie with a little flake salt, crushing it between your fingers as you do.

Bake the cookies for 10 or 11 minutes, pull the baking sheet from the oven and, using a metal spatula, a pancake turner or the bottom of a glass, tap each cookie lightly. Let the cookies rest on the sheet for 3 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, always using cold dough and a cool baking sheet.

Serve after the cookies have cooled for about 10 minutes, or wait until they reach room temperature.

Almond and Swiss Chard-Tahini Dip with Pita Chips

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I love finger foods and make a point of bringing you frequent posts featuring some sort of finger food. For me, there is something magical about finger food. It seems both sophisticated and mischievous. I suppose it’s because finger food is party food. The trouble is that finger food can be a real chore for the home cook. It’s fiddly, time-consuming and, if I’m honest, pretty dull to make. Entertaining can be hard work – that’s a given. After all, if parties were easy caterers would go out of business. That doesn’t mean, however, if you do throw a party you need to spend days in the kitchen or hundreds of dollars on caviar; there’s party food that can be made without much hassle. Chips and dip come to mind. Almond and Swiss Chard-Tahini Dip.

If you love hummus this dairy-free Almond and Swiss Chard-Tahini Dip will become a new favorite. Make sure you have plenty of warm pita chips to scoop it up. GREG

Pita Chips

Spicy Cumin Pita Chips

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Inspired by Sweet Paul MagazinePublished
Spicy Cumin Pita Chips

Ingredients

  • 2 pita breads
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds (lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle)
  • ½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper (or to taste)

Directions

Place oven rack in center position. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut each pita into 6 pie-shaped wedges, then separate the layers creating 24 “chips”. Lay these onto 1 or 2 rimmed Parchment-lined baking sheets in a single layer, rough interior side up.

In a small bowl mix together the olive oil, parsley, thyme, lime juice, Worcestershire, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Brush the entire top of each of the pita chips with a generous amount of the spiced oil, making sure to get some of the herbs and spices on each chip. Save the extra spiced oil for serving.

Bake in the oven until deeply golden and crispy, 6 to 8 minutes. Make sure to check them often as they can go from light gold to burnt quickly. You may also find it necessary to rotate the baking sheets part way through cooking, depending on your oven.

Serve warm or at room temperature with your favorite dip or additional oil for drizzling if desired.

Chard Tahini Dip

Almond and Swiss Chard-Tahini Dip

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 3 cupsSource Adapted from Maydan, Washington D.C.Published
Almond and Swiss Chard-Tahini Dip

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pound green-stemmed Swiss chard (2 or 3 bunches)
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
  • 5 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • ⅓ cup chopped almonds (or more if needed)
  • ½ cup tahini
  • ⅓ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • sea salt (as needed for seasoning)
  • water (if needed)
  • pita chips (see recipe)
  • lemon wedges (for serving)

Directions

Remove the center stem and rib from each of the Swiss chard leaves. Tear the leaves into small pieces and roughly chop the stems and ribs. Set both aside separately.

Warm ⅓ cup olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Cook reserved stems and ribs in the warm oil, stirring often until tender and beginning to color. Add garlic; cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add reserved chard leaves by the handful, letting them wilt some before adding more; cook, tossing, until all the leaves are wilted and tender, 10–12 minutes total. Let cool.

Place Swiss chard and any cooking liquid in a food processor, add chopped almonds, tahini, lemon juice, and remaining ⅓ cup oil. Season with salt and process, adding a little water if needed, until dip is creamy and speckled with chard. This could take several minutes. Season with more salt if needed. If the texture of the dip seems too thin add a tablespoon or so additional chopped almonds and blend again.

Transfer dip to a serving bowl. Serve with pita chips and lemon wedges.

Cold Sichuan Summer Noodles

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I was flipping through the LA Times recently and came across a simple recipe for Sichuan Summer Noodles that made me stop and stare. It’s not that these cold noodles are particularly photogenic. You can see by the photo I did that it’s hard to get noodles to smile for the camera. No, it’s not their aesthetic charisma that made me stop and stare. It was the simple realization that though I may eat Sichuan Summer Noodles (or some sesame splashed, peanutty cousin) at almost every Asian restaurant I stop into, I never make them at home. Which is surprising because it’s an incredibly easy dish to prepare and you can serve it as a main course or appetizer.

When the weather gets hot, the noodles get cold.

The other thing I took notice of in this recipe was the fact that these Sichuan Summer Noodles are served chilled. Most Asian noodles I’ve come across are served in steaming bowls of broth, tossed with spicy sauce. However, when the weather is blazing hot it’s perfectly acceptable to cool down your noodles. Sure, these noodles may never be Instagram stars, but I promise they’re mysteriously yet profoundly refreshing – and just spicy enough to zip across your palate. GREG

Cold Sichuan Summer Noodles

Sichuan Summer Noodles

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Adapted from Tiantian QuiPublished

Less sweet than balsamic but with more depth than white wine vinegar, black vinegar is a staple in Chinese cuisine. It can be found in most Asian markets or online.

Sichuan Summer Noodles

Ingredients

  • 4 ounce brown sugar
  • 4 ounce granulated sugar
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ pound dried Chinese noodles (not egg noodles)
  • ¼ cup black vinegar (see note)
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • 2 cup mung bean sprouts
  • chile oil (to taste)
  • 1 cup shredded chicken (optional)
  • 1 cup chopped green onions

Directions

Make the sweet soy sauce: In a large, deep saucepan, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, soy sauce, and water. Boil over medium-high heat until reduced by one-third, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool. This makes 1½ cups of sweet soy sauce, more than you need for this recipe. Store the extra sauce covered in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Prepare the noodles: Boil the noodles according to package instructions until tender, then place them in a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain well and reserve in a medium bowl.

To make the sauce mix together ½ cup of the cooled sweet soy sauce with the black vinegar and garlic. Toss the reserved noodles with the sauce. It’s alright if the noodles seem a bit soupy. Let them chill in the refrigerator, tossing occasionally, at least one hour and up to overnight. The noodles will absorb the sauce and its flavors.

To serve: Place the bean sprouts in the middle of a medium bowl. Mound the chilled noodles in the center of the bowl over the bean sprouts. Spoon some extra sauce on top if you like then drizzle some chile oil over the noodles. Top with the chicken (if using) and green onions. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Grenache Wine Region: Maury, France

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Maury France

Happy International Grenache Day! Didn’t realize that today’s the day? Don’t really know what Grenache is? It’s the grape varietal represented by the “G” in GSM (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre) a popular (and wonderfully balanced, delicious) Rhône blend. It is also a primary ingredient (out of a possible 13) in Châteauneuf du Pape. This warm weather grape produces a bright, red-fruity, easy drinking to elegantly complex wine. Grenache speaks with a different accent in different parts of the globe. You may love Garnacha from Spain for instance – same grape. I had a particularly striking Lomita, Pagano Garnacha in Baja, Mexico recently. Being a Californian I’m partial to expressions from our very own Rhône Rangers (Tablas Creek, Bonny Doon, Dashe, Donkey & Goat).

Maury, France

But I’m here to tell you about wine from a growing region that might not immediately jump to mind: the Côtes Catalanes, a sub-appellation of the Roussillon in France. We’re talking Spain-adjacent, a bit west and south of the Rhône. Steep windy hillsides, black schist soils, plenty of sunshine and a cooling maritime influence allow the old vines planted there to offer up a ripe, savory bouquet to the nose and palate. Winemaker Dave Phinney, of The Prisoner and Locations fame, fell in love with the area and set up shop in Maury, France some ten years ago. France has Departments, the way America has States – so Dave named his winery Department 66 after Maury’s location.

Department 66 wines

Don’t worry if you neglected to get me a gift for International Grenache Day. Dave’s team generously sent me a trio of his Grenache based gems to try.

  • Department 66 “Fragile” Rosé 2017 SRP $18
    Nose: floral, rhubarb
    Palate: crisp white peach and nectarine, juicy (but not overly sweet) strawberry and perhaps a touch of kiwi flow over a stony river bed. Refreshing and invigorating, a lovely complement to cold poached salmon both aesthetically and culinarily.
  • Department 66 “Others” Red Wine 2015 SRP $25
    Nose: herbs! garrigue (typical for Southern France), earth, plum
    Palate: both savory and sweet, damson, cherry cola, raspberry mid-palate, mushroomy earthiness, somewhat rustic with a lingering mineral finish.
    Grenache gets the masculine treatment here, smooth yet firm tannins and good acidity that would pair nicely with a bacon cheeseburger.
  • Department 66 “D66” Grenache 2014 SRP $38
    Nose: savory, bright, red fruit, spicy
    Palate: round, medium-plus body, pomegranate, currant, anise, lovely balance, powerful with a watermelon Jolly Rancher finish.
    Serious punch from ample alcohol, feisty fruit expressive of warm climate. To sip and savor with or without food. Yum.

At the risk of sounding hackneyed, I submit that Grenache Is The New Pinot. If you love an elegant, balanced dare I say “feminine” wine (as opposed to a big brawny manly fruit bomb), give Grenache a try. As one of the world’s most widely planted red wine grapes it’s easy to find –you can even order Department 66 wines online. KEN

Maury, France Maury, France Vineyard

Eat Corn Now: Charred Corn Soup

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Charred Corn Soup

Charred Corn Soup! Get the klieg lights, roll out the red carpet ‘cuz corn has arrived in Hollywood and this fan has big plans. It may take a while longer in Los Angeles than other parts of the continent for the really good corn to arrive. I don’t know why that is. We in Southern California have grown spoiled by the availability of spectacular produce all year long. Corn is an exception. The early corn is usually shipped in from other places and lacks a certain corniness I can’t quite define. So when the first of the local summer corn starts to make its annual appearance I have one motto: Eat Corn Now!

And it did not take a lot of effort on my part to decide to do a summer corn soup – an unusual Charred Corn Soup topped with a crisp corn tostada round for added corn crunch.

This Charred Corn Soup has an unusual sweet secret ingredient in it. It’s an idea I stole from Yotam Ottolenghi and it makes perfect sense. Especially here in Los Angeles where the best corn comes in that shoulder period between the end of summer and the beginning of winter squash season. You see the secret ingredient is a hint of sweet and savory pumpkin. Still, it’s a very corn-centric soup and I have made every effort I could to keep the corn front and center here. But don’t worry this isn’t one of those overly sweet corn soups. This soup is a burnt corn soup!

Which may seem odd. But don’t recoil automatically. A slight char brings a subtle bitter element to this soup. Which adds depth to the naturally occurring sugars in the corn and pumpkin. Making it a very sophisticated soup.

Besides, mastering a controlled char on all sorts of food is the sign of a good cook. Food52 wisely lists the competent use of high heat as number 23 in their list of “30 Qualities of a Good Home Cook”. GREG

Charred Corn Soup

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6-8Source Adapted from Yotam OttolenghiPublished
Charred Corn Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 8 ears fresh corn (kernels removed)
  • 5 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • 3 stalks celery (small diced)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • kosher salt (as needed)
  • 2 cup small diced peeled pumpkin (or other orange-fleshed winter squash)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoon fresh lime zest
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (or to taste)
  • 4 cup water (or more as needed)
  • 8 ounce sour cream (or more as needed, divided)
  • lime wedges (as needed)
  • 6-8 crisp tostada rounds (or tortilla chips)
  • crumbled cotija cheese (as needed)
  • fresh cilantro (as needed)

Directions

Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet (at least 12 inches) over medium-high heat, add the corn kernels, toss and let it sit in as close to a single layer as possible until lightly charred, about 6 minutes, mix it up and let it char again about 6 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside. If you do not have a large enough skillet work in batches.

Heat the oil in a medium soup pot, add onion, garlic, celery, ground cumin, ground coriander, and a little salt, and sauté stirring often on low heat for 12 minutes, to soften the vegetables.

Add the pumpkin, bay leaves, lime zest, chipotle chile powder, and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft. Add the charred corn and cook for five minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to lift out about half of the vegetables, and remove and discard the bay leaves. Blitz the remaining soup until smooth, then return the vegetables to the pot and bring to a light simmer. Add a little more water if you find it too thick. Stir in half the sour cream and taste for seasoning.

Divide the soup into six bowls, squeeze the juice of half a lime into each portion, lay a crisp tostada round on top, and drop about a tablespoonful of sour cream in the middle. Garnish with plenty of crumbled cotija cheese and cilantro. Serve with additional lime wedges on the side.

Charred Corn Soup