The bread was hot and fresh. A simple plate of it, along with butter sprinkled with Maldon salt, and a little dish of olive oil. Biting into the crust, it was crisp, light. We could have just come to The Tasting Kitchen for the bread and wine alone. But we ordered olives, and then some cheese. Three cheeses were selected by the kitchen as I couldn’t choose and wanted to try some different cheeses.
Darling had a Manhattan served up in an elegant glass. I had a glass of a pinot noir, something tasty, the label name not coming to mind. Then I realized I needed something green, so I asked for salad. It arrived soon after the olives and cheese, dressed perfectly, frilly romaine lettuce on a plate. It was wonderful that way, just lightly tossed in good olive oil. You could taste the freshness of the lettuce. It tasted hand picked that day.
The menu was appealing and there were plenty of dishes that I wanted, like the lentils and rapini, the burrata and broccolini, and the polenta with truffled egg. But we decided on two dishes for our main, and kept it at that. The ravioli with goat cheese and leeks seemed a creamy and comforting dish to me, and buttery sauce is tempting for sopping up with that luscious fresh bread (we ordered more). The green olives were juicy and oily in their brine.
Darling chose the branzino with trumpet & black mushrooms in a brown butter sauce, topped with pine nuts. We were surprised that the entire fish was served. It was exquisite plated as it was; a fine looking sea bass with its body dressed up in mushrooms and pine nuts. Branzino is what they call “European seabass” in Northern Italy, and in other parts of Italy, it is called spigola or ragno. Its flesh was delicate, honestly made with little pretense. The plate honored the fish by keeping quiet in its white china. Nothing ornate to detract from the rustic beauty.
Elegant food. We liked the simplicity and the ambiance. My ravioli tasted just as I had imagined, with the pasta itself done with finesse— neither too heavy or under cooked (al dente) but not mushy or weighty. No, it was as Goldilocks once said: “just right.” Slivers of leeks and the fresh taste of goat cheese. I did soak up the bit of sauce with a crust of bread. Perhaps a repeat try for brunch might be the next visit. The bread was marvelous and inspired me to bake again, just for the joy of hot and crusty fresh bread in my hands, with crunches of sea salt in butter and a soak here and there of olive oil.
1633 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice, CA 90291 tel. 310.392.6644
“Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you
Embrace me, my irreplaceable you
Just to look at you, my heart grows tipsy in me
You and you alone, bring out the gypsy in me…”
(George & Ira Gershwin)
Cauliflower soup. This all began when I thought about what a lovely combination cauliflower and curry can be. I had shared a bowl of cauliflower soup at dinner the other night with my Darling, and it’s been on my mind ever since. Creamy, dreamy and satisfying, and with a little reverie.
Lately I’ve been missing the farmers market, and not wanting to spend my wallet at gourmet markets either. Rather, I ended up shopping at my local supermarket in the cold and dark afternoon turning to evening. The sky was a gloomy dark gray and I just felt the desire to be held in my Darling’s warm arms. I wrapped his scarf around my neck a little more. Being away from him after a few days of his warm embrace made me feel a little melancholy. So I put on some music in the kitchen (and one of my pretty aprons) and decidedly began to make soup.
There are three things that chase away my blues: baking, roasting and making soup. Well, the other morning I threw together a batch of Madeleines infused with orange blossom, and that was good with a hot cup of tea. Now in the kitchen I had some John Coltrane ballads playing and Sarah Vaughan singing Embraceable You. With my oven full of roasting vegetables, it was warming up my blue mood. Yes, soup making was indeed what was needed to get me cheery. Of course, I have plenty of reasons to be cheery. One reason in particular should have me soaring over the big full moon in the sky. When one has hoped for and dreamt of that crazy thing called love, and it finally arrives, there is a surprising amount of melancholy that can only be left over from the wishing and hoping. Call me a romantic fit to be in a Jane Austen novel, but I feel so overjoyed that I’m a melancholy baby. So, cauliflower soup it is.
With this sudden inspiration, I decided that warming my soul and celebrating my good luck with a few recipes from Claude Monet’s cooking journal might be fun and just the right thing to make. But I didn’t go to Whole Foods Market, so I was disappointed (yet not surprised) that my local supermarket didn’t carry gourmet herbs like fresh chervil (for herb soup à la Monet) or raw, unsalted pistachios (a key ingredient in Vert-Vert Cake). Once in the dreary supermarket, I had to let go of the wild idea that I’d be making the herb soup featured in Monet’s cookbook, or the cake that Monet’s cook Marguerite made, a cake called Vert-Vert (Green-Green, naturally). I have longed to make this cake for some time, and marveled at the photograph displayed in the cooking journal book of Monet’s house in Giverny. Ah well. Another reason to go to the farmers’ market this week.
But soup is one of those things that I love to make because it asks for contemplation. It makes the house smell good. My wooden salad bowl finds itself useful when mixing up things other than salad. I chopped up two shallots, then two heads of cauliflower, tossed them into the bowl, generously poured in olive oil, sherry, sprinkled Herbs de Provence and curry powder into the mix. A pinch of some Himalayan pink salt.
Mise en Place:
2 heads of cauliflower, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
4 or 5 small red potatoes
several splashes of sherry (have a sip while you’re at it)
several generous dollops of olive oil (about 1/2 cup)
Herbs de Provence
sea salt (or Himalayan pink salt)
1 1/2 quarts of vegetable broth
Once the cauliflower was coated with olive oil, herbs, curry spice, sherry, and shallots, I had a second thought to add a few red potatoes. Adding the potatoes insures a creamy, full-bodied texture. And cashews too. In my pantry was just enough cashews for the soup.
I soaked the cashews in broth while roasting the cauliflower mixture on a sheet pan in the oven. Roasting vegetables makes the house smell delicious and feel cozy. See? I’m warming up already. Rainy days like yesterday and today make soup and bread the perfect meal. Curry spices like turmeric, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, saffron, cumin, cardamom, cloves and cayenne make me feel positively sunny.
After the cauliflower was good and golden from roasting, I put it into a big soup pot with broth (and the soaked cashews, don’t forget). I heated it up and allowed the flavors to blend. Meanwhile, I got my favorite clay pot out all ready to contain the blended soup from my Vitamix blender. I blended up the batches of roasted cauliflower and broth, then poured the creamy cauliflower into the clay pot for seasoning. I added more curry spice, some cream, and really, that’s all it needed. The croutons I made were from a loaf of jalapeño cheddar bread. This added a zesty spice to the wonderfully creamy soup. Just a bowl of this warmed my heart and soul. So wonderful, so marvelous, it brings out the gypsy in me.
After enjoying a bowl of my roasted cauliflower soup while listening to Sarah Vaughan belting out Embraceable You, my heart was filling up with the curry spice sunshine, my mind began pushing away the rain clouds, and the warm bowl of love soup embraced my soul. I might just call this Embraceable Soup.
Picca means “to nibble” in Peruvian, and you could spend all evening nibbling on the delicacies by Chef Ricardo Zarate, to be sure. With his tantalizing alchemy of Peruvian cuisine à la izakaya-style tapas, Chef Zarate delighted our palates with his Andean spiced dishes. I marveled over the menu, glancing through the 50 dishes, a veritable myriad of temptations. I decidedly slowed down my excitement. I was there to learn something new. It wasn’t so much about eating as it was about appreciating. Appreciation requires taking things in slowly, no rushing in. I was just so excited to finally have dinner at Picca. A leisurely dinner. No highchair with my wiggling toddler sort of rush through the eating kind of dinner. Just slow dining pleasure and discovery.
There are moments in life when we become acutely aware of our senses. Most of the time, we are skimming the surface, only taking things in superficially, without thought, an automatic response to something we are used to. We know what to expect. We can’t help that, we are human, and some of us lean to an almost canine sort of devotion when we truly love something familiar. As a creature of habit, I cling to my morning ritual of Earl Grey tea with milk and honey, a yogurt I’m fond of, an omelette I will never tire of with a warm, crusty baguette. I enjoy the repetition of things I know, and when it comes to food and eating, I do stay within my sandbox of familiar pleasures. I am sentimental. I feel comforted by it. Food brings back memories and creates new ones. But I want to go deeper, clear my mind, open my heart, and discover new experiences with a keen awareness. That is when things transform and sparkle. Even with our ideas of what is what in food. Like sushi, for example. We think of rice and fish. But you wouldn’t imagine using potatoes instead of rice, would you? In this food adventure, traveling to South America by chef and by plate, my senses are awakened to the heights of Machu Picchu.
The Yanesha people of the Peruvian Andes believed that food was central to life itself. Peruvian mythological food origins are rooted in plants (*see Smithsonian Food & Think blog link for more on the myths). In Ancient Peru, plants and animals took human form in their myths, and like the Ancient Romans and Greeks, the gods mated with humans that created another sort, a demi-god, but in one Peruvian tale, the demi-god was a Maize god who fertilized the earth with sweet corn.
And what about the potato? Sacred comfort food. I adore potatoes, mashed, laden with butter and cream. We think of Ireland when we think of potatoes, but do we realize the origins of the potato are found in South America? The potato was the gold of Incan food lore:
“In the ancient ruins of Peru and Chile, archaeologists have found potato remains that date back to 500 B.C. The Incas grew and ate them and also worshipped them. They even buried potatoes with their dead, they stashed potatoes in concealed bins for use in case of war or famine, they dried them, and carried them on long journeys to eat on the way (dried or soaked in stew). Ancient Inca potatoes had dark purplish skins and yellow flesh. The Incas called the potato “papas,” as they do today. Following is the Inca prayer that historians say they used to worship them: O Creator! Thou who givest life to all things and hast made men that they may live, and multiply. Multiply also the fruits of the earth, the potatoes and other food that thou hast made, that men may not suffer from hunger and misery.” (excerpt from What’s Cooking America)
Potatoes. You will find them plentiful in the dishes at Picca. Papas. Papa Rellena. Papa a la Huancaína. Sweet Potatoes. Potato in place of rice for the causa sushi. Papas Fritas. Sweet Potato paste. Sweet Potato puree.
(photo courtesy of LATimes.com)
We sat upstairs in the lounge area overlooking the restaurant below. I enjoyed sitting right next to Darling all cozy-like, so it was a perfect seating arrangement. The other thing about sitting above, aside from the quieter level of noise, was the perfect view of the cocktail action in the bar— through the mirrored reflection one can see the cocteles being created. It was exciting to take everything in from our view although I kept missing the moment of the bartenders shaking up their shakers like maracas. After a few failed tries to catch that ‘shake it up’ moment with my big Nikon camera, I decided to surrender my photojournalistic compulsion to simply enjoy the experience of Picca.
What I found refreshing was that Picca felt elegant and relaxed. You can tell it is about the cuisine, the chef, and the extraordinary food. Nothing about Chef Zarate’s cooking is contrived or overdone. You can feel that all of his life’s history comes together in his flavor combinations. And there is a reason why Picca is busy and always simmering with a full house of diners. The interior radiates with bustling energy, the ambiance is as zesty as the menu— sparkling, colorful, bubbling with robust life. The food tastes authentic, soulful, like someone’s grandmother is stirring a pot in the kitchen. Continue reading →
I’ve been in love with granola for the longest time, and some of the best granola-filled bowls I enjoyed were with plain yogurt, fruit (strawberries, blueberries or raspberries), all generously drizzled with honey.
Out of all the different brands, I found Whole Foods brand to be one of the best. The square clear plastic box displays its deliciousness, and contains whole oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, maple syrup, cracked rye, cracked wheat, wheat bran, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. This box of granola is addictive.
2 3⁄4 cups rolled oats
1 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon salt
1⁄2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3⁄4 cup dried sour cherries
1. Preheat oven to 300. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pistachios, coconut, pumpkin seeds and salt.
2. In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.
3. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and spread granola over it. Bake until dry and lightly golden, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring granola a few times along the way.
4. Remove granola from oven, and mix into it the dried sour cherries. Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to a storage container. Makes about 6 cups.
I made my version much the same but I added more pumpkin seeds, dried cherries, pine nuts, honey, vanilla, and fair amounts of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom are aphrodisiac spices. Pumpkin seeds are beauty replenishers and contain beneficial nutrients for skin and hair.
I set the oven at a little bit lower than suggested because I burned my first batch. Also, when it was done, I turned off the oven and left the sheet pan of granola to cool in the oven overnight.
In the morning, I filled my many containers to the brim with this marvelous granola and have already eaten two bowls of it today. A few jars will be gifted to a friend/food blogger who made batches of his own using the Eleven Madison Park recipe. We’ve all been obsessed with this granola, and I am very pleased to say that it compared to my favorite Whole Foods granola. I will be making my own batches of granola now that I have a good recipe. Makes tasty little holiday gifts and it’s better than fruitcake.