Perfect Autumn Pancakes

September 29, 2017

Pumpkin Pancakes

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

pinch of ground clove

½ teaspoon sea salt

4 eggs, separated

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

¾ cup pumpkin puree

1 ¼ cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove until combined in a large bowl.

Separate the eggs.

Whisk the yolks with the melted butter in a medium sized bowl. Stir in the pumpkin puree, milk and vanilla.

Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff, about 2 minutes.

Mix the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture. Gently stir 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the pumpkin mixture. Carefully fold in the remaining egg whites.

Make three-inch pancakes with a ¼-cup measuring cup, and cook in a lightly buttered cast iron skillet or griddle. Serve with apple cider syrup.

Yield about 24 pancakes.

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Blood and Slime in LA

September 25, 2017

These are bloody clams – something I’ve never seen on the east coast.  They’re strange and delicious creatures that actually look like they contain blood. They don’t. But they do taste fantastic eaten simply on the half shell with a squirt of lime and perhaps a splash of hot sauce. If you’ve never experienced them, they’re worth trying just for their texture, which is as dense as an ordinary clam when it’s cooked. It’s a surprise in the mouth.

I had them at La Cevicheria in Los Angeles, a modest, wildly popular restaurant on Pico that serves all manner of seafood, mostly raw and almost always spicy. I love their aquachile de camaron – raw shrimp in a spicy green sauce that seems to be mostly chiles, cilantro, onion and citrus.

Loved these tacos de ceviche de camaron too: fresh, spicy and crunchy.

Late at night, one of my favorite LA spots is Aburiya Raku.  The other night (to the horror of a friend), I indulged in a night of slime.

To start, this dish called bakudon– which means “the bomb.” You mix up yama imo (mountain potato), natto, uni, and salmon roe, then roll it all up into crisp sheets of seaweed. The crisp, dry seaweed closes around that flavorful goop to offer you the most superb textural experience.

Another version of slime: poached egg with salmon roe, uni, tiny mushrooms and okra.  The point is to mix it all up and eat it with a spoon. If you’re me, this is pure pleasure.

To horrify my friend even more, we ordered raw liver in thin slices. It’s not the  loveliest dish, and I refrained from photographing 1t, but both the flavor and texture provide a delightful experience. I did, however, take pictures of this beautiful Spanish mackerel which seemed ready for its closeup.

For dessert: there is nothing quite so soothing as fresh tofu:

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The Very Beautiful Valle de Guadalupe

September 22, 2017

The Valle de Guadalupe is unlike anyplace I’ve visited before. People compare it to the Napa Valley thirty years ago, but that’s not right.  This is very much it’s own land – an arid dessert, filled with dusty, rutted, unpaved roads and no addresses that make any sense. A place where grapes struggle up out of the ground, and the stressed vegetables are filled with flavor. A place where the air is filled with the music of crowing roosters, and the jauntiest dogs you’ve ever seen gambol across the land.  A place where those who scratch a living from this difficult earth band together in what seems to be a true spirit of solidarity.

It is also a place of extraordinary beauty.  You bump down these dusty rock-filled roads and then suddenly turn off into an oasis of green plants and gardens.  This is my view from my lovely room at the Villa del Valle, the hotel run by former Angelenos Phil and Elaine Gregory next to their Vena Cava winery.  (which has been called “the hippest winery in Baja”.)

And then there is the food….

Javier Plascencia, who owns the wonderful Finca Altozano (home of this extraordinary restaurant built right into a tree)

says that there is a freedom here in Baja that untethers a chef accustomed to cooking in the United States.  That – combined with the freshness of the food and the universally gracious service – gives every meal a joyous quality.

I fell in love with everything about Traslomita, an outdoor restaurant that raises its own vegetables and serves them in simple and imaginative ways.

Seafood here is very fine – the port of Ensenada is just across the mountains – and the Sea of Cortez has extremely cold water. Traslomita’s version of aquachile is remarkable; the chef, Sheyla Alvorado burns the vegetables to make the sauce.

She serves her ceviche in a giant clam shell…

And makes the most addictive taquitos  from suckling pig cooked in a caja China.

Don’t miss the rice pudding; rich and textural, laced with guava, bits of cold and crunch and topped with caramel ice cream, it reminded me of the famous rice pudding at L’Ami Jean in Paris.

Many of the wineries and restaurants here were designed by architect Alejandro D’Acosta, who is one of the more inspiring people I’ve met.  His architecture – he is famous for recycling – is idiosyncratic, changing remarkably from venue to venue. Sometimes funky, often spare and beautiful, it is always interesting. But in addition to creating beautiful spaces, he and his brother have created La Esquelita, a place where local grape growers come to learn winemaking, using the school’s equipment at every step along the way.  This seems very much in the spirit of Guadalupe: people helping one another out. (Alejandro, in the blue shirt, stands before vats of crushed grapes. The green lines are refrigeration.)

One ofd D’Acosta’s most gorgeous buildings is the winery Bruma, which has just opened its own restaurant, Fauna. Chef David Castro is a local son, but he’s worked at Eleven Madison Park, Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Cala – and his food is extraordinary.

To begin there were kumamoto oysters, blood clams, and these little seaweed chips with nopales

 

This is his version of aguachile – kanpachi hiding beneath the larges slice of daikon you’ve ever seen.  There are also rumors of sea urchin hiding in here.  A truly spectacular dish.

Hiding beneath that cauliflower foam (shades of the famous Robuchon cauliflower and caviar) is a wildly delicious mixture of sea urchin and bone marrow.  Brilliant!

Rare duck , very flavorful, with a burnt cabbage mole.

And a beautiful dessert that was so delicious it was gone before I remembered to pull my camera out.

The friendliest meal we had was at La Cocina de Dona Esthela, a huge barn of a place that attracts a wide clientele for breakfast – which surely counts among the world’s greatest ways to start the day.  Dona Esthela is justly famous for her lamb, but I was equally enamored of her machaca, served with lacy light Sonora style flour tortillas and irresistible refried beans.

Her gorditas are spectacular – these are filled with nopales

and of course her chilaquiles are superb.

Could this woman possibly serve you anything bad?

The most magical meal we had was the one Javier served us beneath that ancient tree at Finca Altozano.  The meal was very long, but these were the highlights

geoduck (which apparently grows in the Sea of Cortez)

local sea urchin

grilled suckling pig

chilied beans mixed with hominy

Smokey, lemony, slightly spicy paella, cooked over the open fire, with local quail.

The food here in the Valle de Guadalupe is exciting, and the wines are fascinating.  But things here are changing fast.  Go now; thirty years from now you’ll be proud to say you knew the Valley when it was still young.

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A Little Taste of Tijuana

September 21, 2017

This is my overwhelming image of Baja California: smiling, generous and very relaxed. Also, I must say, very delicious.

That beautiful woman is at Marisco’s Ruben, in Tijuana, just over the border.  Fantastic aguachiles, made to order with raw shrimp, scallops ….

or callo de acha – a scallop that is the adductor muscle of a giant clam (here they are in the fish market in Ensenada).

 

You will not want to miss chocolate clams which are the most delicious clams I know – crisper than the ordinary sort – and which sadly never make their way across the border.

And while we’re on the subject of clams, an important bit of information.  Should you need to use the restroom, you will need to understand the signage.

This is the lady’s room.

This means men.

In Tijuana I also recommend the tacos here at Fitos.  They’re quickly made, the tacos dipped into the sauce, crisped, then filled with the most wonderful birria of beef.  (I would have liked to try the tripe, but sadly they were out.)

In Ensenada, in addition to visiting the fish market (if only to see the display of shrimp)

You will want to stop in at Tacos Fenix.

A true example of the law of the line: although there’s a similar stand across the street where there’s no wait, the line at Fenix is always long. Join it.

Tomorrow: a visit to one of the most enchanting places in the world, the Valle de Guadalupe where, among other things, you can dine beneath the shade of a century-old oak tree.

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Today’s Perfect Recipe

September 1, 2017

This is one of America’s best-loved fall desserts. And for good reason. Originally published in the New York Times by Marion Burros, it has been tweaked by any number of people. Including me.

Prune plums have a short season, that begins now.  Rather dull eaten out of hand, they positively sing when baked into this sweet fruity cake.

Plum Torte

1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

zest of one lemon

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

12 large or 20 small prune plums, pits removed, halved the long way

4 tablespoons brown sugar, divided

Heat an oven to 350 degrees

Prepare a 9-inch round cake pan with high sides. (You really do need the height; a spring form pan is a good option.) Butter the bottom and sides of the pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper.  Butter the parchment paper and dust the whole pan with flour.

Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy in a standing mixer for about 5 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time and thoroughly combine after each addition. If the batter appears curdled, do not worry, it is because the eggs may be cooler than the rest of the mixture, and the butter hardened when the eggs were added. The batter will become smooth with the addition of the flour..

Beat in the the buttermilk or yogurt and add the vanilla and lemon zest, medium speed

Whisk together the flour, the baking powder, baking soda and salt, and add to the butter mixture until just combined.

Separate the halved plums into two equal piles.

Spoon half the batter into the pan and level the top with a small offset spatula.

Place the plums, cut side down on the batter, and sprinkle with two tablespoons brown sugar.

Spoon the rest of the mixture over the plums, and place the rest of the plums on top cut side up. Sprinkle with the remaining brown sugar.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden.

Cool the cake on a rack for 5 minutes. The cake will pull away from the sides of the pan.

Run a knife around the edge of the cake. Invert onto a plate, peel away the paper, and invert again onto a serving plate.

Best served warm but delicious at any temperature.

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