Lemonade!

February 9, 2014

Lemon
I wish you could smell these lemons!  They're so intense that I've perfumed the entire house with their fresh yellow fragrance.

I'm making what I think is the world's best lemonade.But first, a few notes. 

 

  1. The most important thing to know about lemons is that the best flavor is in the peel, which contains all that wonderful lemon oil.  If you’re going to take advantage of this, buy organic lemons or scrub your lemons well before using them.
  2. But here’s the problem: just below the bright yellow zest is the evil pith, the spongey white part of the lemon which is bitter.  That’s the part you want to avoid; if you crush it into your lemonade within a few hours you will end up with an unpleasantly bitter drink. 
  3. Simple syrup is one of the secrets to great lemonade. It is nothing more than sugar dissolved in water so that the sugar will sweeten the lemon juice, rather than fluttering down to the bottom of the glass and sitting there glumly all by itself. If you infuse the lemon zest into the syrup, you get all the complexity of the zest with none of the bitterness of the white. 
  4. You’ll need a lot of lemon juice, so you want to get as much juice out of each lemon as you can. If you’re lucky, you’ll get about a quarter of a cup of juice out of each lemon; if you’re stuck with unfortunate lemons you might need as many as six for a cup of juice.  Increase your chances by rolling the lemon around on the counter beneath your palm to break down the cells inside the fruit; it will give you more juice. 
  5. If the lemons seem hard and unforgiving, microwave them for 20 seconds.  This will shock them into relaxing, just a little. 

 

World's Best Lemonade

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

4-6 lemons juice, enough to make a cup of lemon juice

2 cups water

With a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemons, being careful not to get any of the white pith.  

Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, throw in the lemon zest and allow to cool.  

Juice the lemons until you have a cup of fresh juice. 

Strain the sugar syrup; it should be a lovely yellow. Add half to the lemon juice, along with the water, and keep adding more until it is sweetened to your taste.  (I prefer mine quite tart. The strained syrup will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator.)  

Pour over ice cubes and serve. 

 

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A Vegetarian Egg?

February 8, 2014

When I was in San Francisco I stopped by Hampton Creek Foods to investigate their “vegetarian egg” project.  It’s a fascinating look into the future.   

The tech startup, funded partly by Bill Gates, is intent on making an egg out of vegetables.  Their one-room office south of Market is as unusual as the egg they’re trying to make.  Part Geek City, part Julia Child’s kitchen, part Mad Scientist’s lair, it’s a collision of  home ec, Silicon Valley and science. In one corner chefs are baking cookies and flipping pancakes; in another scientists are doing arcane experiments with test tubes and centrifuges. And in the middle nimble young people are tapping furiously on their computers.  A dog sleeps on a sofa. 

The idea, they tell me in a quick intro, is to do away with battery chicken facilities, which torture the animals (well, you’ve seen the pictures), create huge environmental problems (greenhouse gasses, monumental piles of manure), require antibiotics, and are prone to disease like avian flu.  Oh yes – and they’re expensive.  Their "eggs", they say proudly, will be environmentally sound, disease-free, farmer-friendly – and cheaper. 

The point is very much the one Frances Moore Lappe made more than forty years ago in Diet for a Small Planet: there is something insane about using huge amounts of usable protein (in the form of feed grain) to get a very small amount of usable protein (in the form of meat).  Why not just eat the grain instead?

The smart part is that they’re not trying to create an egg that you would boil or fry; they’re trying to create an egg that’s an ingredient.  And their first product, Just Mayo (already for sale at Whole Foods), is very convincing.  It’s delicious mayonnaise.  

Mayo

 

Now they’re working on eggs you can use in pastries.  The pancakes chef  Chris Jones (you might remember him from Top Chef), made with one of the products isn’t the best pancake I’ve ever tasted – but it isn’t the worst.  Put enough syrup on it, and few people would complain.

Pancakes
 

The egg that they “scrambled” needs a lot more work.  It was grainy, with a slightly sour taste. Still, put it in a breakfast sandwich with a slice of sausage, and you’d probably never notice that it wasn't really an egg. And I couldn’t help be impressed by the notion that it is 100% vegetable.

  Eggs

What vegetable?  The scientists won’t say, although the label on their mayonnaise mentions "pea protein." They’re working with a variety of legumes and beans from all over the world in an attempt to find various proteins that will mimic the emulsifying and leavening action of eggs. 

They’ll never replace a great boiled egg. But as a substitute ingredient in what has become America’s most popular condiment (mayo has apparently just beaten out both catsup and salsa) – well, it’s bound to save a lot of chickens from a miserable life. 

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Notes from San Francisco: Atelier Crenn

February 7, 2014

  Fish

I didn’t know what to expect.  

This is what I knew: Dominique Crenn was a San Francisco chef who is always mentioned when the subject of “women chefs” is raised. She had many stars from local critics in San Francisco, and two from the Michelin people. And she writes menus that are poems.  

This is what I found: a small, spare, elegant but rather modest room filled with the electricity of expectation.  It feels hopeful, the way a theater does, just before the curtain rises.  

And theater is what you get.  I love this kind of dining, where the chef is walking a tightrope, taking risks, pushing you to explore tastes and textures that you’ve never before experienced.  There were dishes I loved and some I hated, but in the four hours I spent at the table, I was never bored. It was like taking a wonderful journey, exploring new territory, and I walked out the door utterly exhilarated.

Here are a few of my favorite moments of this particular trip. (Apologies for the pictures; I was having too much fun…)

The meal begins with a tiny bonbon of a drink. An adorable edible Kir, a little flavor bomb that explodes into your mouth in a whoosh of liquid.  Apple, chocolate – and a total surprise. 

And then the parade of tiny dishes begins…..

 

Caviar

Under the midnight glow I can taste the sweetness of the sea: a tiny uni custard topped with caviar (in a ceramic sea urchin shell)

Grain

Nature rejoice, chasing childhood memories.

Snap, crackle and pop! Maybe my favorite dish of the evening, this reimagined cereal combines crunchy grains, cool herbal leaves, lovely trout roe.  Textures and temperatures do somersaults in your mouth. Fantastic!

Chowder

These creatures who move with a slow, vague wavering of claws

No wait, this was my favorite course: Hands down the best seafood chowder I've ever tasted. Hard to believe that so many flavors and textures are hiding in that little bowl of soup.

  CarrotSalad

Elegantly sitting on branches.

You can hardly see them, but at each end of this branch is a tiny carrot that has been much manipulated until it is reduced to the ghostly essence of itself.  A fascinating little tidbit.

and

Dotting the fragrant flora; Ms. Crenn's whimsical little salad.

Mushrooms

Walking deep in the woods, as the snow might have something to spare.

A delightful tangle of mushrooms, and utterly irresistible.

Beef

Feeling of black sand under my toes.

Wagyu beef as it should be served: one extremely satisfying bite. Okay, maybe two.

Bird

Where the wild beauty is sleeping under frozen winter leaves.

The wild beauty being the most delicious bit of bird.

And finally, an edible encyclopedia of honey, all comb and crunch. 

Honey

Afterward there were lollipops, chocolates and as a finale, a little fluff of mint cotton candy, that leaves you with a laugh. 

Fantastic pairings of wine, sake and beer as well. My particular favorite: that fantastic old white Rioja!

Menu

  Wine

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Another Taste of Thailand

February 2, 2014

Dinner at Night + Market 

The last time I had food that tasted like this was not in America, but in Laos, where I learned to rethink what I considered edible, to respect every possible source of nutrition. It reminded me that most of the Thai food we get here comes from very high up on the food chain.

You can go to Night + Market and eat delicious food that will make you happy and ask very little of you: sweet and spicy chicken wings, crab fried rice, pad  thai and fiery curries.  But if you’re an adventurous eater, there are flavors here that will really stretch your taste boundaries.

Some highlights from last night’s dinner:

Rice cooked with pork jowl and blood, and steamed in a banana leaf. Dark, funky and totally delicious, this is the manliest fried rice you’ll ever eat. I loved it. 

Fried pig tails. If you told your friends that they were eating a newly discovered part of the chicken, they’d absolutely believe you. Nothing scary here: rich, fatty, sweet, spicy, these little tidbits are so much fun to eat.  Utterly addictive. 

Liver ceviche. This is liver as you have never had it before. Lightly cooked, the triangles are dressed in lime, fish sauce, chiles and herbs, which unapolgetically underline the essential nature of liver.  

Catfish, pork fat, chiles and herbs wrapped in banana leaves and baked until the fish becomes as soft as custard. A bracing take on the rather tame hor mok; I couldn’t stop eating it. 

Grilled strips of hog collar – wonderfully fatty – to dip into a jaew – the pounded chile paste that is the staple food of northern Thailand.  

And finally, the most luxurious pork hock, slowly cooked in a dark soy concoction, deep, sweet and incredibly intense. That soy sauce tasted as if a million spices had gone swimming through and left their flavors in their wake. 

Night + Market shares a space with Talesai, which was a pioneer in the eighties, bringing a new elegance to Los Angeles Thai restaurants. The latest member of the family is an indication of how much things have changed.  This loud hip restaurant offers Thai food for an adventurous generation that has been to Thailand and understands that this cuisine has a whole host of new flavors available to anyone willing to take the next step.   

 

 

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More Notes from L.A.

February 1, 2014

Had dinner at Rustic Canyon Wine Bar the other night with a group of friends so interesting that I didn’t really focus on the food.  I knew I liked it, but we were talking, and the place was so pleasantly casual that the food went past me like a dream.  It did what good food is supposed to do; made a really good gathering better.

But the next day the dishes came back to me, one by one, and I began thinking that the meal hadn’t just been delicious; it was exciting.  Chef Jeremy Fox has a fascinating food mind; he puts unexpected flavors together, teasing out a whole new way to experience ingredients. He thinks about textures too.  His pork trotter, for instance, is a gloriously unctuous mess, rich little nuggets of flavor on a yuzu aioli. Crisp. Chewy. I’ve never had anything quite like it.

His beet and berries is another stunner. Quinoa with big chunks of beets and invisible strawberries that completely permeate the dish. I kept eating, almost unconsciously, thinking, “Why does this taste so good?” And then I’d take another bite, and then another. 

But the dish I couldn’t stop eating was the tiny potatoes in giblet gravy.  The potatoes were so delicious – some crisp, some soft, and served with something that seemed closer to a savory pudding than any gravy I’ve ever known. It’s hard to do something new with potatoes, but Mr. Fox has done it.

Now I can’t wait to go back and really focus on the food.  What did I miss?  

Went back for lunch at The Hart and The Hunter too.  I might be addicted to that kale salad, with its apple, its caramelized pecans and its restrained bit of cheese.  As for those biscuits…..

 

 

 

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