St. Patricks Day Recipe: Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops!

A perfect recipe for a cool winter dinner, or to practice now for a St. Patrick’s Day feast!

Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops

2 shoulder chops

3 stalks celery, diced

2 carrots, diced

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, skinned and left whole

2 anchovies , oil-packed

1 tbs tomato paste

1 cup dry wine (red or white)

1/2 cup stock

1 bouquet garni (2 stalks of rosemary and 6 stalks of thyme)

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Season the chops with salt and pepper. Pat dry. In a heavy skillet bring a heat a tablespoon of oil to smoking. Sear the chops until crisp and brown on both sides, about 1 minute on each side. Remove chops to a plate. Lower heat to medium. Add the carrot, onion, and celery to the hot pan and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add anchovies and cook for 1 minute until anchovies begin to melt into the vegetables. Add tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables

Add wine and stock, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring liquid to a boil, then return lamb chops and accumulated juices to the pan. If needed, add additional stock or water to ensure the liquid nearly covers the meat. Reduce to a simmer and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Reduce heat to low (or place in a 240degree oven) and simmer until meat is fork tender but not falling off the bone, about 1.5-2 hours.

Remove chops to a plate and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Skim fat from the surface of the braising liquid. Strain braising liquid through a fine strainer, discard solids. Return liquid to pan and reduce until liquid coats the back of a spoon. Serve chops on a bed of mashed potatoes, glazed in braising liquid and topped with gremolata.

Gremolata

Zest of 1 lemon (fine)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup of fresh parsley, chopped

Combine ingredients and chop fine. cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Can be made up to six hours in advance.

Restaurant Etiquette: Pre Fixe Menus

On special occasions such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve–and *ahem* Valentine’s Day–restaurants tend to rely on pre fixe menu.

This can be irritating. You have chosen a restaurant that you love based on the food you typically enjoy there! Why are they changing it up? Do they really expect you to order a $75 four course meal for your three-year old?

The main reason restaurants offer a pre-fixe menu on a holidays and special occasions is the same reason that they frequently require parties larger than twelve to select a set menu; it makes the service faster and more efficient so you and all the other guests filling the dining room can get their food in a reasonable amount of time.

Typically, the menu will include mouthwatering dishes from succulent pastas, unctuous roasts, cracklingly grilled steaks and seared fish…. It is in the chef’s interest to make everything tempting because she knows that if she doesn’t, forty-seven people are going to order the grilled ribeye simultaneously and her grill cook is going to get overloaded while the pasta cook’s lovingly handmade noodles disintegrate in a pool of congealing cream sauce waiting for the steaks that are on the same ticket.

If you have Pre Fixe Menu Anxiety (PFMA), here are some things to consider : Continue reading

Marche Bacchus

I almost don’t want to write about this spot. I almost don’t want anyone else to know where it is, that it exists, or where to find it. It’s like when you first discover an incredible band. And in the beginning, you can go to a concert in a intimate little club and be right by the stage. Then suddenly everyone else in the world discovers that band, and as happy as you that they are succeeding, you also long for that time when everything was simpler…

Ah.

But here I go.

For my birthday dinner a week ago, The Gent whisked me away to a lovely little oasis in the desert of Vegas, a lovely, clever, well-appointed bistro called Marche Bacchus. It’s a waterfront bistro behind a wine shop, in the suburb of Summerlin. There is no strip, no slot machines, if it weren’t for the heat, you would never know you are in Vegas.

In the United States, 9% of the total workforce finds employment in restaurants. In Vegas, the percentage must be three times that. It is this fact that creates the perfect recipe for Marche Bacchus. The wine shop in the front of the dining room is your wine list. You can stroll among the aisles, roll the bottles in your hands, debate with your dining partner about the pros and cons of this bottle or that one. Then decide to just compromise and get both.

You are not going to find any Kendall Jackson or Barefoot here. The collection is incredibly selective. And if you see the prices that restaurants pay for wine, like I do, then the prices are gob-smackingly competitive. As in “how the heck can they stay in business and charge $40 for a bottle of Jordan Cabernet, when most restaurants charge twice that?”
The Gent and I started with the Melka ‘CJ’ Cabernet. Then nabbed a bottle of Kistler Chardonnay after we ordered practically every seafood item on the menu, and thought we should have a white wine, too.  Two bottles of wine enjoyed between two people is a recipe for a lovely birthday dinner, but a terrible one for getting photographs in focus, so this post is slightly lacking in the latter.

Our server, Paul, was perfect. As much as I love LA, and I love my staff, there is nothing like being in the hands of a server who truly enjoys food, wine, and service. He was conversational when we had questions, knew the menu like a song, and was gracious when we came in close to the end of the night and bought two bottles. He knew he’d be there to close the place down with us.

The food was all thoughtfully prepared. We started with the cheese plate, which we usually do if there is one on the menu. Rather than just the usual brie, chevre, and humboldt fog, this one featured mimolette, something like an asiago, something goopy, something bleu…. it got fuzzy with all the wine and good company. But they were all tasty. If there is escargot on the menu, the Gent always bites, and I ordered the beet salad with smoked trout & apple to start. Entrees were Prince Edward Island mussels, and pan-roasted Idaho trout with a crab and roasted pepper salad. We couldn’t have possibly fit dessert in our stomachs, but Paul grabbed us a decadent flourless chocolate cake for my birthday.

I generally hate ‘closing the place down,’ but this time it was unavoidable. You can’t order two bottles of wine with dinner and not stay awhile.  We definitely left an appropriate tip.If you are in Vegas, and you love wine, you should definitely head to Marche Bacchus. But don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Be cool.

The B Word

Brunch.

Mother’s Day Brunch, to be more specific. It is probably the most reviled shift in an entire year of restaurant services, more dreaded than New Years’ Eve, Valentine’s Day, St. Paddy’s/ Cinco de Mayo/ Independence Day.
Mother’s Day brunch is an anthropological oddity. There should be studies done. Most of your guests arrive in large multi-generational parties of 8 to 10 guests. Dressed in their Sunday best, they look like a photo from a Macy’s catalog. They are a family tree all mixed up with in-laws, moms, grandmothers, babies, and the matching patriarchs.
they look sweet

Right off the bat, someone in the group will mention “I didn’t know it was a fixed menu, did they say when you made the reservation, Henry?” Then, as you walk toward their table…. Grandma A (we’ll call her Gladys) stage whispers how she hopes you are not going to that table, her daughter (why not Alice?) says “Mom, any table will be fine” to which mother-in-law (Virginia) adds “does anyone feel a draft in here? it’s drafty!”

wedge salad w/ everything on the side

Then the order, Virginia can’t believe her son (Henry) is drinking “so early! In the morning!” as she orders her chicken salad with everything on the side, no cheese, and with no dressing, just a little lemon, dear. Our young Mother, Alice, makes a show of being fine with everything—“I’ll have the salmon… however the chef recommends it is fine.” 

but wait for it…..

Then the toddler, unaccustomed to not being the center of attention starts to get fussy and climb out of his chair. Alice is pretending not to notice because, as she mentioned in the car on the way over here,  “Jesus, God Henry its Mother’s Day for crying out loud you can take care of the kids for one godforsaken day, you’re their father for chrissake.”  Henry will either:

a.       let the tyke tire himself out by running around the dining room
b.      try to hold the squirming interloper at the table amid howls of protest
c.       trot the kid around the front of the restaurant himself till he feels like falling asleep in the booth
No matter which one he chooses, however, Henry will lose. And he knows it.
a.       “You’re just going to let Jeffrey run around like that? What if he runs out the door, gets snatched up by a guy in a van and we never see him again? You want to make your mother think we are negligent?”
b.      “He’s just a kid, Henry! Let him go, he’ll tire himself out and at least we can eat our breakfast in peace!”
c.       “I can’t believe you left me alone at that table with our mothers. A little support would have been nice.”
Then Gladys’ salad isn’t amazing, but “it’s fine.” And her husband, having had about enough, says “Gladys, if you don’t like it get something else! The waiter told you he’d get you something else.” The coffee is too cold for Henry, but too hot for Gladys, and Virginia is sure this isn’t decaf like she requested.
After an hour and half of this, the check arrives. And granddad A won’t hear of Grandad B paying for this, because he is a man and he can buy his own brunch, and Granddad B feels exactly the same way. But they can both agree that Henry isn’t paying, he’s a sweet kid, but really. And he just bought his wife that ridiculous diamond thing for Mother’s Day, like a complete novice. (“It’s more of an Anniversary gift, really,” Gladys will say when she and her husband are finally driving home).  And Alice can’t believe that Henry is going to let her father foot the bill again.
No matter who signs off on that tip line, it’s never good.
Unlike Thanksgiving, Passover, or Christmas when families get together to break bread and get on one another’s nerves, on this particular family holiday most families do it in public. The worst part is that there is no way to prepare for it. The restaurant staff is in the same position, many times, as poor Henry….. the position where it feels like nothing you do will be right. 
For a quick case study– Round tables are dining room gold, everyone wants one if they can get it. Last year I walked a table to the best round 8-top in the room, and one of the fathers just raised hell until I moved them to rectangular table in the middle of the dining room. Turned out this guy hated his mother in law so much that couldn’t stand to look at her face for even an hour over brunch. “That woman makes me sick,” he told me as he sidled up to the bar for two fingers of whisky away from the table.
Is every table like this? No. But they all have the potential to be like this. And it can be pretty entertaining if you know what you are getting into.
You just soldier through it with a smile, put every sauce on the side, and comfort yourself with the knowledge that all of the politicking at table number 20 has nothing whatsoever to do with you while you wait for everyone to be finished so you can dig into the leftover french toast in the kitchen. 
For more on the pains that go into making a memorable brunch, check out the ‘Kitchen Confidential’ take on it….

http://www.hulu.com/embed/aqXP04Jg74n18QruXxMV_w

Hospitality at Home: Sweet Corn cupcakes with Maple Buttercream

hello cupcake

When my college roommate, Wicky, came out to visit me in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, the idea for a sweet corn cupcake with maple buttercream and candied bacon began growing in my brain like a particularly voracious weed…. a weed that only grows stronger when fed by buttercream…

So, today I finally had the chance to turn my thoughts into a reality.

I wasn’t exactly re-inventing the wheel here, a simple google search yields multiple recipes for each of the individual components, but none with the complete sweet corn, maple, bacon trifecta.

I started with the buttercream– this time a french buttercream rather than the swiss meringue from the Frostpocalyse… although I did retain the temperature lessons from that ominous day.

thermometers are our friends

Then I pulled together the sweet corn muffins with some greek yogurt and a dash of double strength vanilla extract that Wicky gifted me from the Spice House in Chicago (which is one of my favorite places in the world…. come to LA, come to LA….).

The candied bacon was easier than I thought it would be. Just Oscar Mayer Center Cut bacon, topped lovingly with brown sugar and baked in a 400 degree oven for 8 minutes, then flipped and cooked for another 4.

bacon & brown sugar. getting ready for the oven’s lovin’

While I waited for the cupcakes to bake, I also tested out a China-mum corsage for my sister’s upcoming wedding.

imagine this on a wrist. in front of a tiffany blue dress

The resulting cupcake was less cake than muffin-like (which is great, b/c the Gent does not really thrill to cake), with a wildly maple-licious frosting, brought together by the salty-sweet zing of candied bacon.

…..goodbye, Cupcake….

All together, this is a great Spring cupcake that will only get better as corn season reaches its peak in June. Most importantly, it is a great breakfast cupcake– which is easily my favorite time of day to partake in cupcake consumption. It’s a great dessert to bring to a dinner party, but also a lovely addition to a brunch menu.

And in that vein, I feel compelled to mention that after quality control testing the cupcakes and components, I cleansed my palate with an omelet made from the orphaned egg-whites, and topped it with some spinach, feta, olives and sun-dried tomatoes that I had laying around the pantry.

post-cupcake egg white omelet, with spinach, & “greek tapenade”

recipes after the jump….

Candied Bacon
Bacon (I like Oscar Mayer Center Cut)
Brown Sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a rack over a baking sheet; spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Lay the bacon over the rack & sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake on one side for 8 minutes. Remove from oven, flip, and sprinkle the fresh side with brown sugar. Bake for an additional 4-5 minutes until sugar has caramelized.

Let the bacon cool before breaking into pieces.


Maple Buttercream Frosting
(adapted from Martha Stewart) 

 3 large egg yolks
1 cup pure maple syrup, best quality
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces (& registering 68 degrees F)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of Salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks
on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes; set aside. In a small saucepan set
over medium-high heat, bring the maple syrup to a boil, and cook until it registers
240 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

With the mixer running, slowly pour syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow, steady stream, until completely incorporated, about 1 minute. Continue beating until bowl is just slightly warm to the touch, 4 to 5 minutes. Add butter, one piece at a time, until thoroughly incorporated and the frosting is fluffy, about 4 minutes more.

Add Vanilla and salt. Beat until incorporated (about 30 seconds).

Makes about 2 cups (enough for 24 cupcakes). Store frosting in refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring up to room temperature before using.

Sweet Corn Cupcakes 
(adapted from Serious Eats)  
5 tbs unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 large egg¼ cup plain low-fat yogurt
3/4 cup corn kernels
1 ¼ cup cake flour 
¼ teaspoon salt 
¼ teaspoon baking soda
 ½ teaspoon baking powder
 ½ cup corn kernels 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with cupcake liners.
Beat butter in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat until incorporated.
In a blender or food processor, puree yogurt and corn until smooth (add a table of milk if it is too thick).

In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder, and whisk to blend.

Add about 1/3 of the flour to the butter and egg mixture and mix to incorporate. Mix in half of the corn purée. Add half of the remaining flour and mix just to incorporate. Add remaining corn purée. Mix in remainder of flour and stir to incorporate. Fold in the second quantity of corn kernels.

Spoon the batter evenly among the cupcake liners.

Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until slightly risen and set. Allow to cool on a rack before frosting.

Egg White Omelet with Greek Tapenade
2-3 egg whites (or however many you have left over from your baking adventure)
Feta Cheese
3 Kalamata Olives

3 sundried tomatoes
1 tsp olive oil
handful of fresh spinach
dash of pepper

make the ‘tapenade’:  (I offset with quotations, b/c I know this is not not technically a tapenade, b/c it doesn’t have capers & anchovy… and I know that b/c I am a nerd…) Roughly chop the Feta, olives, and tomatoes. Combine with olive oil and pepper. Set aside.

cook the omelet: Spray a small skillet with non-stick cooking spray and place over medium heat. Beat the egg whites until slightly foamy. Pour the egg whites into the hot pan, and swirl in a circular motion until egg whites spread. Sprinkle spinach leaves on top, and flip the omelet to cook through. The whole operation should take a little less than a minute.

Top omelet with tapenade. Don’t feel guilty about making (and eating several) cupcakes.

Public School 612

Allegash White on draft at Public School 612
If the American Culinary Landscape could be expressed as a music scene, New York would be Opera, with the all grand stages, high stakes, high$$$, and divas-dive-bombing-one-another associated with it.
Chicago would have to be jazz, featuring lots of improvisation on common themes; those that love it, love it, and those that don’t…. well… they don’t ‘get’ it. San Francisco would be Folk and the neo-folk resurgence (organic, sustainable, usually featuring a mandolin…).
And Los Angeles…?
Los Angeles would probably be an accumulation of One-Hit-wonders; Like a NOW! Music compilation; the biggest identifying feature of the LA scene being the constant pursuit of that most ephemeral quality… coolness.
One of the latest competitors in the LA arena is Public School 612, the new bar concept for the Daily Grill Downtown. Walking in, it feels as though this place has always been there– the floors are worn, the table tops just weathered enough, the light fixtures are wrought iron and rustic. When I was there a few days ago, there was not only a mix of neighborhood residents and office-dwellers with ties just loosened, but a few downtown restaurant people, too (chef Meehan from Cafe Pinot was at the bar, and a handful of event directors from the surrounding restos held court at a corner table).

From the t-shirt clad bar staff to the composition notebook menus, it looks cool. Almost too cool.

It would be devil-may-care chic to write your menu on a composition book, but
the PS composition book menu is not an actual composition book, it’s a cleverly designed facsimile. Dishes are presented on tissue paper printed to look like newspaper. There’s a basket of apples on the bar that never gets used for anything; they’re not muddled into a drink or used as a garnish. They just make the theme work. Which made me wonder if my wobbily table was in need of repair, or if it was intentional.
And so the restaurant ends up with a faux patina of grungy Bohemia that lacks the seasoning and substance that would make it authentic.
But there is nothing wrong with Public School.
And that’s the funny part. There is nothing wrong with Public School; every imperfection seems to have been focus grouped, cross referenced, and studied. It doesn’t feel like anything just… happened.  The definition of cool involves some level of not caring. Being earnest is not cool. Wanting to be cool, is never cool.

The Grill Concepts Group has co-opted a vibe that organically occurs in Los Feliz and Silverlake, and made it a theme. Which is soLA. But even in their theme they fall slightly short. The daiquiri listed on their cocktail menu screams to be a Hemingway daiquiri. And why have a school theme and not offer ‘american history’ and ‘european history’ beer flights?

On to the brass tacks stuff, though:
A la Father’s Office and sundry museum cafes, at Public School you order everything from the bar. So your food can find you, they hand you a number to place on your table (in photo above). I asked if they had a number 13, but the bartender thought I was joking.
Biggest hits are the fried chicken and the stout float. The cheese plate is dependable, and the sriracha ketchup & honey mustard sauces with the bag o’ fries are delicious.  The draft beers are eclectic, the staff is warm and engaging, and the food is good. It won’t knock your socks off, but that’s not really what they’re trying to do here. They are trying to be a go-to neighborhood spot that fits in with the climate of this recessionary time.
And in that, they are succeeding…. at least until that fickle mistress, Los Angeles, decides that she’s in the mood for caviar and sparkly wine again…