Do the Beans Matter?

January 30, 2015

Stopped in at The Little Jewel of New Orleans Grocery and Deli today, to get some gumbo to go.  It may be one of L.A.'s best bargains- a really righteous bowl of gumbo, a side of rice, along with toast and butter for about ten bucks.  A fantastic dinner.

Haven't tried anything else here, although I'm thinking those muffalettas would be perfect Super Bowl fare, and I did bring some boudin blanc home for a midnight snack. I'm pretty sure this is the real thing – proprietor and chef Marcus Christiana-Beniger can really cook.  Can't wait to try the po' boys, although frankly I can't imagine there's anything here I wouldn't like.

We wandered through the aisles of the shop, looking at all those classic New Orleans products.  Laurie picked up a package of kidney beans and said, "These are the right kind of beans for red beans and rice.  You should buy some."  I thought – do beans really make that much of a difference?  Still, I bought some. They weren't cheap; a pound of beans cost half what the gumbo did. It was the same price as the boudin.  Five bucks a pound: pretty pricey beans. 

But they were absolutely worth it.


Came home and followed the directions on the package.

It probably helped that I had some Snake River Farms Kurobata Ham to use for what the package calls "seasoning meat."  But I'm guessing it didn't help all that much.  It was the Camellia Kidneys that made this the most satisfying pot of beans I've ever cooked.  

I will never again be without them. The beans smelled fantastic while they were cooking. They tasted great with rice.  And they went up against that gumbo. Didn't win.  But weren't embarrassed.



Cajun Red Beans

1/2 pound Camellia Red Kidney Beans

4 cups water

1/4 pound ham or "seasoning meat," diced

1/2 onion, diced

1 garlic "toe"

1/2 stalk of celery, chopped

handful of chopped parsley

1 bay leaf

salt, pepper


Wash the beans and sort through them.  Put them in a pot with the water and bring to boil.  Turn down to a simmer.

Put the ham into a skillet and cook until it's given up its fat.  Add the onion, garlic, celery and parsley, and cook until the vegetables are soft and fragrant. Add this to the beans.

Toss in the bay leaf and a fair amount of salt and pepper.

Simmer, covered, for an hour and a half or two, until the beans are soft.  Take a spoon and smash some of the beans against the side of the pot to thicken and make the beans creamy.

Serve with rice and Cajun hot sauce to 4 very happy people.  








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Notes from Chi Spacca

January 29, 2015

Foccacia di REcco

That's Nancy Silverton, serving the focaccia di Recco at Chi Spacca, which may be the most irresistible thing I've eaten this year. 

Think crisp, paper thin layers of dough.  Rich stretchy cheese. Olive oil. Salt. The play of textures is arresting – you focus on the amazing things happening in your mouth – and then you just stop thinking altogether and succumb to the sheer deliciousness of the dish. 

Chi Spacca is famous for its meat.  Among other things, Chad Colby's homemade salume (I'm especially partial to the culatello):


but I decided to focus on dishes other than the giant tomahawk pork chop, the gonzo meat pie, the fabulously expensive bistecca alla fiorentina that everyone is always rhapsodizing over.

So we began with these incredible little crostone of anchovies and butter.  Is there anything better than the saline tang of really good anchovies tamed with sweet butter?  


Then this ode to the middle ages, when the rich ate their meat on trenchers of bread, and then donated the bread to the poor.  If it tasted anything like this drippings-soaked toast, well, count me in.  I suspect we'll be seeing copies of this soon. (In a further ode to the lore of the trencher, this is also the least expensive dish on the menu.)


And then there is this chicken, a version of pollo alla diavolo that relies more on lemon than chiles. The chicken itself is pretty perfect – crisp and moist, juicy and flavorful – and there's that trencher again, soaking up all the juices.


And did I mention the cauliflower?  It's the vegetable of the moment, taking over from kale, and Spacca does a very satisfying version:




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Eating Words

January 27, 2015

There are too many food blogs. We all know that; it's impossible to keep up.

But I've just stumbled on another one that's really worth the time.

Paper and Salt examines the favorite foods of literary icons, which is, of course, a whole new way to get to know your favorite authors. It's a fascinating look at writers as diverse as Hunter S. Thompson, the Marquis de Sade, Edith Wharton… the list goes on and on.

Consider, for example, Mary Shelley. Would you expect the creator of Frankenstein to offer you a recipe for what is essentially a kale bruschetta topped with a fried egg?  (She considered it comfort food.) 

And I will certainly never be able to think of Les Miserables without remembering that "Visitors to the Hugo family table remarked on the multiple cups of hot cocoa in the morning, and the “enormous pieces of roast meat” in the evening.” Hugo also ate lobsters (shell on), oranges dunked in wine, (rind on), and during the blockade of the siege of Paris he took advantage of the  zoo’s liquidation of stag, antelope and bear. (The recipe included with this post, venison with blackberry sauce, is mercifully tame.) 

To see another way that food and culture inform each other, look no further than a post on Catharine Beecher.  Her recipe for peanut brittle appears in Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book. Although Beecher calls the brittle “molasses candy,” she warns against using cane sugar because it was, at the time, a product of slave labor. She recommends substituting maple syrup; her sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, would surely have approved. 


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Pop Up!

January 23, 2015


I can't resist antique kitchen utensils, which is why I have so many cast iron pots. Lately I've been looking for a copper egg white bowl because I have a strong urge to make zabaglione.  But my most recent find here in my rented kitchen in LA was this little beauty: a well-seasoned iron popover pan. 

Popovers are descended from Yorkshire Pudding; the first recorded recipe appeared in 1737 in The Whole Duty of a Woman where it was known as “ A Dripping Pudding.” Eight years later in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse renamed it Yorkshire Pudding; nobody knows why.  (The usually reliable Mrs Beeton, incidentally, got the recipe wrong.)  Buckeye Cookery, a mid-American cookbook first published in 1877 contains two recipes for “Pop-Overs” which are, essentially, Yorkshire Pudding without the drippings. 

Whatever you call them, popovers are one of the most satisfying recipes you can make.  You put a very modest batter into the oven in a greased hot pan where it explodes; when you open the oven door your popovers will have grown to as much as six inches tall. 

I've tweaked this recipe from an original in Fanny Farmer. The real secret to a fine popover is making sure your pan is piping hot when you batter it up. 

If you have meat drippings, be sure to add them; that way you'll end up with Dripping Puddings. Such a great name!

Brown Butter Popovers

3 eggs

1 cup whole milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup flour

5 tablespoons butter, browned

a couple more tablespoons butter for the pans

Gently beat the eggs and milk just until they're blended. Whisk in the salt, then the flour, pouring in a thin stream and continually whisking as you pour.  

Let batter rest for a bit. If your batter is too cold when it hits the oven, your popovers will be less impressive.  

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and set your pan inside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter on low heat, allowing it to cook until a wonderfully nutty aroma rises up. When that happens, immediately remove it from the fire.  Add browned butter to the batter. (It may coagulate; that’s fine.)  

Remove the hot pan from the oven. Working quickly, drop a bit of butter into each cup and swoosh it around. Add your batter. This recipe will fill a true 6-cup popover pan, or a 12-cup regular muffin pan. 

Cook for 30 minutes, or until brown and set. (Less if you used a regular muffin pan.) Try not to open the oven to check doneness more than once; the cool air rushing in will deflate the popovers.


Great, Easy Appetizer to Please a Crowd

January 22, 2015

Poor Man’s Tarte Flambée

This was a big favorite at Gourmet, but around our house it’s known as “Robert’s Cheese Toast” because my friend Robert likes it so much. The truth is, everybody I know loves this old-fashioned American classic, and no matter how much I make, it vanishes in a flash. Which is why there is no photograph: every drop had disappeared before I thought to get out my camera. 

Coarsely grate or chop a quarter pound of extra-sharp white cheddar. Chop a quarter pound of cold uncooked bacon and mix it in with the cheddar.  Mince half a small white onion and add that,  along with a tablespoon of well drained bottled horseradish.  Sprinkle in a quarter teaspoon of salt and a few good grinds of black pepper. 

Spread this onto 6 or 7 slices of thin white bread (Pepperidge Farm is perfect), set them on a baking sheet and freeze for 15 minutes.  

Cut off the crusts and then cut each toast in quarters.  Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes or so, until everything has melted into a delicious golden goo.  

This is enough for 4 or 5 people.