What We Ate While Watching the Oscars

February 29, 2016


Have you noticed that suddenly the taste of burnt is all the rage?  I’ve been seeing the word “burnt” on menus everywhere, and it made me think about this venerable Gourmet recipe.  I wondered if they were as delicious as I remembered.  They are.

La Brea Tar Pit Chicken Wings

(adapted from a Gourmet recipe)

1 cup soy sauce

½ cup dry red wine

½ cup sugar

1 inch freshly grated ginger

3 pounds chicken wings, wing tips discarded

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Mix the first 4 ingredients in a small pot and heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Put the chicken wings on baking sheet with sides that you’ve lined with a silpat or are willing to discard.  

Bake for 45 minutes. Turn wings over and bake until the sauce is thick and sticky and the wings have turned black, about another 45 minutes. 1


Robert’s Cheese Toast

you can find that recipe here


Nancy’s Panicale Popcorn



I love my basic chili recipe.  But last night it was even better than usual because Nancy brought pimiento cheese (I don’t have her recipe, but here are a whole slew of pimento cheese recipes) and we spooned that on top.  It’s an absolutely perfect combination. 

Chili with Pimento Cheese

Dice three medium onions and saute them in a good glug of olive oil until they’re soft.  Add 6 cloves of garlic, smashed, and let them soften too.  Toast a tablespoon of cumin seeds, grind them and add them to the pan, along with a tablespoon of chopped fresh oregano, some salt and pepper, and two teaspoons of your homemade chili powder (more if you want it hotter, which I always do).

Add a pound of ground bison, and cook, stirring, until it loses its redness. Stir in 3 or 4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce that you’ve pureed in a blender, a large can of tomatoes, chopped up, and another teaspoon of your chili powder.  Add a cup of homemade chicken stock, and a cup of good dark beer and let simmer, slowly for a couple of hours. 

Before serving stir in a cup or so of cooked beans – the better the beans the better the chili.

No you get to play with the flavors.  Sometimes I’ll melt an ounce or so of really good chocolate and stir that in for a decadent richness.  Other times I’ll add a spoonful of good fish sauce, or a splash of excellent balsamic vinegar.  Sometimes soy sauce to spark it up, other times cream sherry to mellow it down.  It all depends on my mood. Last night we topped the chili with the pimiento cheese (Nancy version used cream cheese), and it was… perfect.

How to make your own chili powder

The classic ingredients for chili powder are a variety of ground chiles mixed with cumin, oregano and garlic powder.  To make your own, substitute fresh garlic and oregano for the tired powdered version.  Add them to a blend of dried chiles that you’ve tailored to your own taste, and then toast and grind them yourself. 

You will figure out your own blend, but I’ve found that I like to use anchos for their winey richness, habaneros for their fruity heat and New Mexicos for their earthy sturdiness. Then, as the chili cooks I add the sultry smokiness of chipotles in adobo to the blend.

Sponge off the chiles, which are almost always dusty. Wearing rubber or latex gloves, cut 2 Anchos, 3 New Mexico and 3 Habanero chiles in half and remove the tips where the majority of seeds live. Discard the seeds. Put the chiles in a heavy bottomed pan (I use cast iron), and toast them on the stove at medium high heat for about 4 minutes, turning from time to time with tongs, until they have darkened slightly. Allow them to cool and then grind the chiles to a powder in a spice grinder or coffee mill. Add a teaspoon of toasted and ground cumin to the mix.

Nancy’s Biscuits

These biscuits are spectacularly delicious.  It hit me though, as I was making them, that there really was no need to grate the butter while it’s frozen. So I grated it first – much easier than the recipe I published in my book – and froze it afterward.  Worked like a charm!

1 1/4 pounds of butter (5 sticks)

5 cups all purpose flour

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda,

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 cups buttermilk

melted butter for brushing on top

Maldon salt

Grate the butter on the largest hole of a standing grater onto a piece of waxed paper or aluminum foil. Put the grated butter into the freezer for at least half an hour.

Meanwhile mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Toss the dry ingredients with the frozen butter and put the bowl into the freezer for another 5 minutes.  Then gently mix in the well-shaken buttermilk, using your hands, until it coalesces into a solid mass. 

Now comes the hard part; you are going to treat the dough like puff pastry. And you’re going to need a ruler. Begin by turning it out onto a counter and molding the shaggy mass into a 10 by 7 rectangle. 

Fold the dough into thirds, beginning with the left side and folding it over the right. Then take the right side and fold it over that so you have a tall rectangle.  Now rotate the dough so that the long side is parallel to the table edge and roll it out, using a rolling pin, into another 10 by 7 rectangle.

Fold the dough as before, rotate, and roll it out again. 

Do this two more times. After the final turn roll the dough out to measure 12 inches by 10 inches; it should be 1/2 inch thick.  Cut off the shaggy edges so you have a sharp, clean rectangle. Cut this into a dozen biscuits.

Put the biscuits on a baking sheet and freeze them solid, for at least 2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Brush the top of each biscuit with melted butter and sprinkle with a bit of Maldon salt.

Bake the biscuits 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 400 degrees, rotate the pan and bake another 15 minutes until the biscuits are golden.


Excellent Brownies

2/3 cup (5 ounces) unsalted high-fat butter

5 ounces unsweetened excellent chocolate

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 eggs

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup all-purpose white flour, sifted

To prepare the pan, butter a 9X9 square pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the bottom again and lightly dust the pan with chocolate or cocoa powder.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the chocolate and the butter over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Stir in the vanilla.

Beat the eggs and salt in a stand mixer.  Add the sugar and beat on high for about 10 minutes, until the mixture has turned quite white.  Add the chocolate mixture to the eggs, beating on low until just mixed.

Gently stir in the flour until it just disappears.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, place in the middle of the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 350 degrees.

Bake for 40 minutes; the brownies will be quite fudgy and a toothpick should come out not quite clean. Cool on a rack.


And then – because too much is never enough around here, Jonathan showed up with 3 dozen of the best burritos I’ve ever eaten, from La Palma in El Monte.  We were full – but we ate every one.


Things I Love: Fragrant, Green, Slightly Bitter…

February 26, 2016


I wish you could smell these dried fenugreek leaves.  Every time I open the cupboard the scent leaps out at me.  It’s herbal, very green, and when you take a pinch and put it in your mouth the flavor jumps around – a bit sweet, and then bitter.  It reminds me of mint that’s lost it’s sense of humor and gotten very, very serious.

I know fenugreek seeds; been using them for years.  I particularly like this old Gourmet recipe for Caucasus Pork with Fenugreek. But the dried leaves – methi in Indian cuisine – are new to me. When I was in Vancouver last week Vikram Vij, (he has an entire restarant empire), gave me a jar – and now I’ve fallen in love.

I’m still figuring out what to do with the leaves – right now I’m kind of sprinkling them on everything from soups to stews. But here’s how Vikram uses the fenugreek leaves with lamb.  And here are a few other ideas.

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And Now a Word from the Mystery Chef

February 25, 2016

IMG_0034And now for this curious archive offering: a cookbook produced and distributed by “your local gas company” in 1936. There are so many for sale online, from every corner of the Eastern Seaboard,  that I think this was probably widely syndicated. My copy is from Camden Gas.

It’s written by “the mystery chef,” who had a twice-weekly recipe radio show in Philadelphia.

He also had a pretty nice house:


He offered recipes (if somewhat suspicious ones), from all over the world:





LA Breakfast

February 24, 2016

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This beautiful creature is a doughnut from Cofax Coffee (the coffee is by Stumptown), on Fairfax Avenue.  They’re famous for their breakfast burrito, but it’s the doughnuts I’ve come for.

Los Angles has always been crazy about doughnuts, but these are anything but ordinary; they may be the lightest I’ve ever eaten, so airy they seem to float off the counter and into your grateful mouth.  They’re the creations of baker Nicole Rucker, late of the much-loved Gjusta in Venice. Lovely flavors too: strawberry shortcake, chocolate, lemon-pistachio, maple bacon and this lovely coffee version.  Even the plain one, below, is a doughnut to reckon with.


Just down the street at the light-drenched  Jon and Vinny’s they’re eating breakfast pizzas like this potato, parmesan, egg and onion version, on a remarkably crisp, thin crust:IMG_2432

and plates of oil-fried eggs like this, surrounded with tomato nduja, grilled kale, crackling potatoes and sauteed onions.


It’s a lovely way to start the day.

And then, of course, there’s Egg Slut in the Grand Central Market, which should not be missed.

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Pancake Soup!

February 23, 2016



When I was growing up my mother loved planning road trips.  She kept promising that one day we’d go to Pennsylvania Dutch country and sample the famous seven sweets and seven sours.  She talked about it so often that I was sure when we finally got there it would be a disappointment.

It wasn’t.  I remember that trip – I must have been about 11 – as one of the real delights of my childhood.  And to this day I’m always surprised that when people talk about the regional cuisines of America, the unique food of this corner of our country is so often overlooked.

The Dutch here is a bastardization of  “Deutsch”; most Pennsylvania Dutch came from Southwestern Germany, hundreds of years ago. And contrary to popular belief, they’re not all Amish. The cookery they brought with them has evolved into its own cuisine, that frankly feels as American as – well, shoofly pie.

Leafing through this wonderful 1950 cookbook, I rediscovered some old favorites: whoppie pies, potato rolls, scrapple, strudels of all varieties. And then there were these soups. This cider soup sounds particularly intriguing.