Sunday, March 29, 2009

Candied Bacon, Truffled Eda Mame & The Notebook: You Know You Want It

I have really come to love having friends over, busting open some wine and cooking something frivolous. On the docket this last Saturday? Chocolate pudding with candied bacon and truffled eda mame.

I had inspiration in triplicate this weekend. The eda mame was inspired by a visit to The Open Door in Monterey Park last week. Their truffled eda mame were made with truffle butter. I wanted to make something as tasty but healthier. The second inspiration was the Supper Club at Rosso, where Michael Ruiz served Valrhona chocolate pudding with candied bacon. Third was my awesome guests, our Kogi quest and the need for snacks before and desert afters.

I found an easy recipe for candied bacon here: Essentially, you cover the entire package of bacon in light brown sugar and bake at 450 for about 15 minutes.

During the cooking process I had The Notebook on the telly. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams are so easy on the eyes...the both of them.

Slipping the sugar covered goodness into the hot oven.

The sugar bubbles up as the fat and granules mix together and smell up your entire house.

Be sure to watch the bacon carefully.

I pulled mine out of the oven just in time, narrowly averting a burned bacon disaster.

After the bacon cooled, I chopped it into hearty sweet and chewy chunks.

And I topped ramekins of fat-free/sugar-free chocolate pudding with the bacony goodness.

I definitely took a pudding short cut. I could have made pudding from scratch, but I am lazy and instant pudding is so fast and easy. I also had a really long day, starting with tennis in Lakewood at 9 am, a nap, and then cooking and cleaning afterward. Girlfriend needs a shortcut. I figure the fat-free/sugar-free part of the pudding canceled out the fat-intensive/sugar-intensive characteristics of the bacon. After eating, you come out even.

I love this scene. Every time I watch this movie, this scene moves me.

Onto the eda mame. Who knew I would ever cook enough that I would need (I and anyone else cooking frequently in this day and age) more than one kind of salt. The Fusion Black Truffle Salt was a gift from K. The ingredients read "sea salt, black truffle", not truffle essence, truffle fragrance, etc. Black truffle. I think this is real truffle salt. It is amazing.

I bought some frozen pre-cooked eda mame and defrosted them in some warm water.

I drained and tossed half with fleur de sel and half with the truffle salt. The truffle salt gave the eda mame a really similar flavor to the soy beans I ate at The Open Door last week, without the butter. These made a perfect snack for everyone before we headed out across town in search of Korean BBQ tacos. Succeed!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hits & Misses at Yxta Cocina Mexicana

Yxta Cocina Mexicana
601 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90021
(213) 596-5579

Friday night we piled into C's Prius to head over to Yxta, the new Mexican place downtown that's takin' names and packin' a lunch. We met H, and T from SinoSoul, a spicy blog that echoes his personality to perfection. T suggested we start by ordering one of all the antojitos, but his awesome suggestion was met with some resistance due to lacto-ovo vegetarianism and food ownership issues. I, on the carnivore end of omnivorous continuum, loved the idea. Next time, T!

Our table was ready when we got there, but all parties had not yet arrived, so we waited at the bar. It was so pleasant there, and the bartender, Alex, was so awesome we stayed there for the duration.

The menu is pretty lengthy, with lots and lots of choices. There are many innovative sounding items on the menu and some classics.

The cocktails all sounded fantastic, with Latin flair.

Friday they were offering pineapple & jamaica agua frescas and horchata. They make a white Russian substituting horchata for leche, too sweet for my taste buds, but I would have loved to least taste it.

At the strong suggestion of Alex, I ordered the jamaica margarita. It was freaking delicious. Fresh but not at all too sweet with a nice tequila bite. The second one I ordered just a little stronger. That Alex knows how to work a cocktail. She was a little overwhelmed with hand making all the cocktails for a large party because they were down one bartender for a Friday night, but she handled her shit.

I wasn't fond of the chips and salsa. There was nothing wrong with the salsa per se, just nothing fantastic. And the chips were the thick overly crunchy kind. I am not sure if you know what I mean by that, but I tend to like my chips thinner and super fresh. These did not come out warm.

I was tempted by several mole dishes on the menu, however T talked me into ordering a little dish of mole for dipping. Great idea, we got to try Yxta's mole without committing to an entire dish. I would have enjoyed this more if I had enjoyed the chips more. The mole was just fine. Not too thick, nutty, chocolaty and savory.

I was thrilled with the stuffed squash blossoms. Flores de Calabazas Rellenos con Queso Oaxaca. Hands down the best thing I tasted. They were huge...

and with just the right balance of squash and squash blossom to cheese. You get three to a plata, we were all sharing and I still I ate two. If I go back again, this will be my main course and I will have salad to start. Delicioso.

The Tostadas de Atun did not thrill anyone. The tuna was fresco, pero the dish just did not come together. There were some avocado slices, a little crema and some fried onions on top. The elements sound nice together, but it just wasn't great.

Several people ordered the Albondigas de Pescado. The seafood balls were nice, but had some kind of breading or something to hold the meat together. They were quite delicate, and I assume they kept the balls separately from the broth to keep them from breaking up. However, two people said their seafood balls were lukewarm in the center of a very hot and delicious broth. The broth was perfection, clean tasting with lots of veggies and cilantro floating around.

According to one Chowhounder, the Camarones al Ajillo was the dish to try. It sounds wonderful, Mexican sweet shrimp mojo de ajo with cilantro lime rice, however it was rich. Really rich and buttery. Yes, the flavors were out of this world. The garlic, the shrimp, the strong cilantro and citrus flavors in the rice. But I have had less butter in an entire tasting menu at Melisse. Despite the fact that my mouth is simply watering at the thought of the flavors in this dish, I would not order it again. Just overwhelming for me. I would suggest you order this to share with someone or with an entire table as a side dish. It is definitely worthy.

The shrimp were cooked perfectly, firm but not chewy at all.

A major fail of the evening were the Chile Rellenos. I almost ordered these because I have been craving them recently. However, due to the similarity of the nature of the squash blossom dish and the firm rec for the sweet shrimp I passed. C, perhaps at my suggestive talk, fell under their spell. They were so overly cheesy they were uneatable. About a 5-1 cheese to chile ratio. You had to do major archaeology to get any chile at all in each bite. Disappointing. This went largely uneaten. I think C took it home.

I do have to comment, that despite the couple mis-hits, Yxta shows great promise. I think a few items on their menu could use some tweaking, but given time and attention this could be a place I frequent. I loved both the cilantro-lime rice and the Spanish rice. Both rices were light and fluffy, but also moist and flavorful. Really well done. I am impressed because I find rice at Mexican restaurants usually too dry. The drinks were top notch, as were the squash blossoms and the soup despite the temp of the balls. I am going back in a few weeks to give it another whirl, without a doubt.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Michael Ruiz Cooks at Rosso Supper Club #1: Salt, Butter, Pork & Paolo Bea Wines

Rosso Wine Shop
3459-1/2 N Verdugo Road
Glendale, California 91208
Phone: 818- 330-9130
Fax: 818- 330-9131

Wednesday evening we had the pleasure of attending one of Rosso Wine's first supper club dinners. There is only space for 15, so they send the email out to a small number of people, and space fills up fast. I know they had a decently long waiting list of people who didn't dial/email fast enough. Chef Michael Ruiz of Cobras & Matadors & Lil' Parlor Pizzeria (both Steven Arroyo endeavors) is in partnership with Jeff for the supper club concept.

Supper Club #1 was themed: Salt, Butter, Pork. And the wines were provided by Paolo Bea wines. These wines are not for the faint hearted in terms of flavor and price tag. We caved on a couple bottles of each because they were delicious. I am looking forward to having occasion to break one open. Naturally, that occasion could include anything from an engagement or promotion to laundry or a dog walk.

The Supper Club is $40 a person, and the amount of food served was perfect. The amount of wine served was just enough to understand and enjoy the wine, but not enough that one would be unable to drive home.

The "salt" course was our amuse-bouche. Salted wild salmon, spiced cabbage and a chive creme fraiche, with fresh chives as well. This was delicious.

Jeff passed the tray once and I took my share, one amuse. As the tray passed my face again on its way toward another guest, I had a hard time keeping my paws to myself.

The salmon was wonderfully fresh and silky, the chive creme fraiche and spiced cabbage rounded out the flavors with a little acid and a little creaminess.

Above is Michael Ruiz constructing the amuses.

We got to try two Paolo Bea wines. They are from Umbria, an area in central Italy to the East of Tuscany, the west of Marche and north of Tuscany. It is a hilly and mountainous region and its major crops are grapes, olives, wheat and tobacco.

We first sampled this white wine.

De-Vino Boutique says this about the white:

Monastero Suore Cistercensi is a convent that produces one wine: Coenobium. This vino da tavola from Lazio has been christened (get it?)"the nun wine." Coenobium denotes a community of monks, and the wine is made by the sisters at the Cistercian monastery in Vitorchiano, north of Rome, with help from Montefalco vintner Giampiero Bea. The blend is made from organically grown Verdicchio, Trebbiano and Grechetto. A long soak on the grape skins helps transform these modest white varieties into an amazingly layered wine. Scents of rainy-day flowers, coriander and orange zest lead you to a richly textured mouthful, with sweet honeysuckle, minerality and a subtle tang. Good story; great wine.

We all agreed that this beautiful white has a beery flavor and finish, Lisa said almost masquerading as a light hefeweizen, but definitely a wine. I loved it and imagine myself drinking it much colder than a true wine snob would even consider, sitting on my front porch in the hot summer sun.

Jeff set up a lovely table near the wine bar for the majority of the guests. D and I always prefer to sit by the bar, mostly so we can monopolize the attention of Jeff & Lisa, two of our favorite people.

The "butter" of the meal was the first course. This was the stand out course of the evening. ZOMG. So good.

A room temperature puree of celeriac soup with coriander oil and frothy pear butter, topped with dill. I loved every flavor in this. The fun of it was the richness and vegetal flavor of the celeriac mixed with a little of the sweet, sweet pear butter. This soup was amazing. If this dish was served in a restaurant it would be ground for me obsessing over and returning to eat as many times as often while it was seasonal. I could have licked the bowl, if D wouldn't have slapped me.

The next Paolo Bea wine was the Rosso de Paolo Bea. Jeff told us that this was produced in a very off year for red in that region, and the winemaker countered this by hand picking the bunches of grapes for the wine.

De-Vino Boutique provides us with a quote from Paolo Bea himself about wine making:

"As a child, I learned this craft from my father. Our history and tradition is the source of our knowledge and inspiration. Today, my family is here with me, all working together. Our roots in Montefalco trace back to the 1500's, as documents in the village archives attest to. Through passion sustained and encouraged by my sons, Giuseppe and Giampiero, and also by the irreplaceable presence of Marina, my wife and mother of my children, our family has come to appreciate each other in more profound ways, each day relishing the fruits of our labor at our table. With each passing year, I better understand our land, respecting and caring for it...and at the end of each year extract from it a wine which is totally unique, continually developing, improving, and sustaining our health. With an ever growing conviction, we practice, discover, and appreciate natural winemaking methods that exclude the use of chemicals in the vineyard and artificial stabilizing techniques in the winery. Each season is a new discovery, a chance to apply and evaluate knowledge we have gained in previous years."

The middle and dessert courses were "pork". Michael started us out with set ups on small white divided plates containing picked onions with herbs.

Next he sent out family style the slo braised pork shoulder with kidney bean ragu and almond smoke. This came out theatrically in a clear covered dish, you could see the almond smoke under the clear cover, and once the cover was removed the smoke drifted off in the air. It was beautiful.

This dish was solidly delicious. It didn't blow me away like the soup did, but I cleaned my plate and went in for seconds. The picked onions were a delicious balance to the carbiness of the beans and the heartiness of the pork. They were not overly pickled, and retained a very strong oniony flavor without being overpowered by pickled sweetness.

The last dish was also part of the "pork". Valrhona chocolate pudding with candied bacon bits on puff pastry. Michael Ruiz is in with the whole sweet bacon trend, and after eating this I understand why people are doing back flips for the bacon/chocolate combination. This was outstanding.

My only criticism was that there was not a high enough ratio of pudding/bacon to the puff pastry. The puff pastry was basically a chocolate and bacon delivery vehicle. I want a bathtub of Valrhona chocolate pudding with sweet bacon bits, Daddy. I want it now.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

California Jeopardy: Proof That Youth is Wasted on the Young

What are three black lipsticks at the Chanel counter at Saks Fifth Avenue, Alex?

Yes, readers. Last week I was working at one of my favorite spots in Palm Springs and I had a few hours to spare in between clients. I drove all the way to Palm Desert just to look at three shades of black lipstick at the Chanel counter.

In my younger days I would have sported all three of these shades brazenly and wonderfully. However, this week I took one look at them and thought, "Mutton dressed as lamb? Wrinkles in relief?" (Like there are any other kind?) Now that I can afford something so luxurious it would look horrid on me. Back in my goth influenced youth I sported something very similar from the .99 cent Wet N' Wild display at Walgreens. It looked perfect with head to toe vintage and Doc Martens.

The Gardens at El Paseo sport some luxury stores including the Saks Fifth Avenue and its Chanel counter, Prada & Gucci handbags and Louboutin shoes.

A display of Bentleys is parked out front by the sidewalk.

An older gentleman walking by peeks at the sticker price and says in passing, "Not that pricey."

They are a beautiful automobile.

Yes, I drove approximately 17 miles just to look at black lipstick because I had nothing better to do. Environmentally speaking, I was definitely not part of the solution last Wednesday. And you know the rest of that old adage.