February 3, 2013 § 1 Comment
Every year when on Superbowl Sunday I think of a new way to recycle my guacamole recipe, so today I’ve decided to tell you about when Dario Cecchini, the famous Tuscan butcher, came to town—and by “town,” I mean Los Angeles. “What do you do when you have a butcher over for dinner?” asked Nancy Silverton, who was hosting a party in Dario’s honor.
You invite the only other butchers you happen to know, such as Jim from Huntington Meats, seen here inspecting the goods. (Or is he simply eating?)
You invite all Italian-speakers living in the vicinity, such as Rufus, seen here with fellow Italian-speaker Gino Angelini, who is inspecting a sign, written in Italian, that Rufus wears around his neck.
And you serve meat.
For the feast, two smokin’, bbq lovin’, ass kicking chefs Chris Feldmeier (Osteria Mozza) and Erik Black (Spice Table) spent days in order to show Dario how we do it in America.
This Mexican did the only thing she knows to do in such a situation. She made guacamole.
Here it is with that requisite of any meat eating feast: loads of red wine.
The sign Rufus wore, featured in both the English and Italian languages, instructed guests not to feed him.
- “Thankfully,” he says. “Nobody pays attention to anything my mom says.”
Although I can’t give you the recipe for that succulent sausage pictured above, I can give you recipes for what I think are the best red and green salsas you’ll ever taste–unless you go to Loteria! Grill and eat Jimmy Shaw’s chipotle salsa, which is, I hate to admit, un poquito better than mine. I’m still working on getting that one. Maybe next year. Jimmy? Are you listening or is Rufus right again?
Smoky Tomato Salsa
Makes 2 cups
1 pound roma tomatoes, charred on the grill
2 yellow onions, sliced, oiled, and charred on the grill
4 garlic cloves, browned in their skins on grill
1 tablespoon plus 1 to 2 teaspoons pureed chipotle in adobo
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
2 to 3 teaspoons salt
Puree the tomatoes (including juices), onions, and garlic in a food processor. Add the chipotle puree, chipotle power, and salt and stir to combine.
Charred Green Chile Salsa
Makes 1½ cups
4 garlic cloves (skins on) browned on the grill
1 pound husked tomatillos, charred on the grill
2 serrano chilies, charred on the grill, seeds removed
1 poblano chile, charred on the grill, peeled and seeded
1 yellow onion, sliced, oiled, and charred on the grill
A handful of fresh cilantro
Juice of 2 limes
2 to 3 tablespoons salt
Remove the skins from the garlic and puree the ingredients in a food processor to coarse puree, scraping down the sides of the food processor from time to time for even pureeing. Add water if necessary to make a loose salsa consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more lime juice or salt.
May 14, 2012 § 4 Comments
Where once Mother’s Day was only about my mother, these days when that Sunday in May rolls around, I think of all my friends and relatives who have become mothers and are doing such a wonderful, creative, committed job of it. I spent yesterday with my mami at my friend Andre’s, with his mother and other mothers in his life.
It goes by so fast, they all say. And yes, it seems like just yesterday I was sitting with my sister on a stoop in Tijuana while our mother, wearing a smocked yellow mini-dress, smoked a Salem menthol and drank a screwdriver from a turquoise stemmed margarita glass…
They remind me of the glasses Andre served yesterday. I sure wish she’d saved those glasses. (Not to mention the dress!) But the next best thing. As we speak, she’s off at Ikea to buy me these, which André had at his house yesterday.
Andre is one of those talents who can make even Ikea stuff look special. See?
I sure wish my mom had saved those glasses. (Not to mention the dress!) But at least she’s trying to make up for her mistakes. As we speak, she’s off to Ikea, picking up some replacements… Moms.
March 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
Not long ago, following my new Tibetan doctor’s prescription to slow down and be nice to myself (don’t you just love a prescription like that!?), I let myself enjoy a leisurely lunch with my friend, the chef Jonathan Waxman, at the Venice restaurant phenom, Gjelina. As we looked through the menu deciding what to order, I pointed out the words typed on the cover side of each menu, “changes & modifications politely declined.” Gjelina, as anyone who follows the shallow, eating disordered life of Victoria Beckham knows, does not allow substitutions. “What do you think of that?” I asked J-Wax, curious about his point of view on an issue that became pretty loud and controversial in the City of dressing-on-the-side Angels after the VB incident.
“I”m fine with it,” he said.
“Fine with people asking for substitutions or fine with Gjelina’s policy of declining them?”
“You know the famous quote,” he went on in the cool, calm, and all-knowing way he has that inspired younger chefs he competed against on Top Chef Masters to compare him to Obi-Wan Kenobe. “Le chef il a toujours raison.” (Jonathan himself has a policy, though it’s not printed on any menu, of refusing to answer any question in a direct manner.) Since I did not know the quote and do not speak enough French to order a cafe au lait in Paris, I stared back blankly. “It means, ‘The chef always has a reason.’ In other words: Don’t f*@! with it. Let him do it his way. If you don’t like it, order something else.”
“So what do you do at Barbuto when people ask for substitutions?” I asked.
“I do whatever they want,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and chuckling because he was so obviously contradicting himself. “What the hell. I want people to be happy”
March 16, 2012 § 2 Comments
I just got back from visiting a friend in the hospital. (In summary: Not good, but he’s gonna live.) Looking on the bright side, the good thing about what ails him is that he can still eat. Being that pretty much everyone this guy knows is in the food business, he is going to be the best-fed guy at Kaiser. Last night two friends came in bearing two large bags full of tuna melts, bean salads, fried pickles, and root beer from Short Order. I brought Littlejohn’s toffee, which I know is a favorite of his. Today when I got there, there was a sweet little box of cookies from Susina Bakery, scones from Short Cake Bakery, and last I heard, Armenian food from Carousel was on the way for lunch, and a double order of tagliata with oxtail ragú from Osteria Mozza for dinner.
Anyway, today we sat around the way you do when someone you love is in the hospital, trying to crack jokes, not sure which is worse: talking about the reason you’re there or not talking about the reason you’re there, basically just trying to pass the time in a pleasant enough manner so that you can be together and the person knows they are cared for. “Do you mind being here or do you feel bad enough that this feels like where you want to be right now?” I asked. “This feels like where I want to be,” he said.
When the nurse left the room, after persuading her to try the toffee, he looked at me and said, as if we were about to plan a coup: “Okay. Top five things in the Farmers Market.” This is the kind of thing we talk about when nobody has recently stared death in the face so it felt kinda refreshing. “Little John’s,” for sure, I said. “And the shredded beef taco at Loteria.” “Ida’s Old School,” he said about what I’d agree is the best burger at Short Order. We argued for awhile as to whether we could group things and finally came up with this:
1. Littlejohn’s toffee
2. Ida’s Old School Burger at Short Order
3. Roasted & Salted Cashews from Magee’s Nuts
5. Carne Deshebrada Taco at Lotería
I happen to have a thing for the apple fritters at Bob’s Donuts, and the applewood bacon at Huntington Meats. (Not to mention the marrow bones, which Rufus is a big fan of.) We thought about increasing the list to eight so we could fit in all of the things we loved in the Farmers Market but decided against it. Five’s a good number. Besides, if the list isn’t tough to edit, then it isn’t special.
March 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
Last week a blogger, Beth Howard, contacted me via Facebook to say that she’d posted a story I wrote a decade ago on her Facebook page. A New York-based editor, she said, had read my story back then, hung onto it, and sent it to this blogger, because her thing is pie, and that was the subject of my story: pie, and making pie. It was a nice thrill, to think that this editor (who I know by name and respect) had hung onto it, and to have my story resurrected in that way.
But reading a story, particularly a personal essay, that you wrote long ago—in this case, long before I was required to take my shoes off at the airport!—is a bit like stumbling upon an old box of photos in terms of the mix of nostalgia and cringe that it induces. The most alarming thing about reading this particular story was seeing that I had made the pie crust with—yikes!—margarine. The reason I did this was very simple: this is how I was taught to make pies the summer before, when I worked as the pie baker at Loaves & Fishes, which is where I learned how to make pies in the first place. Loaves & Fishes is a famously expensive food store in the famously expensive Hamptons. The idea behind that store is, in a nutshell, to produce homemade food for people who do not cook at home, no matter how beautiful and well-equipped their kitchens. On my inaugural day at L&F, Anna, an older German woman who owns and runs the place along with her daughter, explained to me that margarine made for a tender crust, where an all-butter crust would turn out tough. If this was good enough for their moneyed (and I presumed discerning) clientele, I figured it was as good as it could be. But that’s where I was wrong…
I’ve learned a lot in the 12 or 15 years since the summer I wrote about in the pie story—about life, about what people are willing to pay for and why, and, of course, about pie. Today, with the same casual, knowing ease with which I might slip off my slip-on shoes as I approach the security check at the airport, I can confirm that this bit about the butter making for a tougher crust is true. But I’ve also learned that margarine and all its artificiality isn’t the only solution. The one thing that butter has that margarine doesn’t is flavor. The answer is to use a mix of butter and not butter. You can use butter plus margarine, which I did for several years. Butter and Crisco, which I believe is Julia Child’s formula, but don’t quote me on that. Butter plus lard, which let’s face it must be the best choice because anything with lard is better than anything with a substitute for lard. Or, like my friend Bob Blumer does, butter plus bacon fat (aka: lard).
Looking forward, I can only imagine what I will have learned ten years from now. One thing I do know is that a life where you are making pie (no matter what kind of fat you put in the crust!), that is, a life where you have the inclination and take the time to make pie, and wherein you have the friends and family with which to enjoy pie—this is a good life. As for the crust, I’ll probably go the lard route, followed by Crisco in a pinch. But I’ll definitely always make my own pie dough. The process of making it—taking it, that, for me, is the whole point of pie.
However You Slice It, There’s No Gift More Honest
I discovered the power of pie on an August night a few summers back as I walked across my small, quiet street barefoot, carrying a just-baked, still-bubbling pie with two hands, to introduce myself to my new neighbors.
I’d never felt quite so American, and I’d certainly never done anything so darn-right neighborly. But I’d just learned to make pie, and the nectarines at the farmers market were ripe for the occasion, and, well, something came over me. As luck would have it, he turned out to be a poet and she a gardener, and there we sat at an old bistro table, drinking chilled white wine and telling our stories and falling in love the way new friends sometimes do. When it comes to bearing gifts, there’s just nothing like a fruit pie.
Since then, fruit pie has become my currency of goodwill. Andy and Elyce have a baby and the first thing I think of, because they’re from New England, is blueberry pie. A friend gives me a tennis lesson and, since he’s from Georgia, I find myself slicing up a bowl full of peaches the very next morning. Two firemen rescue my cat from high up a pine tree and I have no choice: two pies to go.
It’s a special feeling, bringing someone a pie. Unlike with a batch of cookies, where you might keep a few for yourself, with pie you just give up the whole thing. If you’re lucky, as I was that first night, they might cut it right there and give you a slice. Most importantly, though, is that when you bring someone a fruit pie, they are nothing short of amazed. Amazed that fruit pies are actually made. Amazed that you made it. Amazed that you made it for just for them.
Before that summer, I, too, would have been in awe of any human being capable of bringing a pie into the world, because I was in total fear of making dough. The ice water thing threw me into a panic. And rolling out dough seemed like some kind of impossible art form, learned from Grandmother or not at all. But once I mastered the four essentials of making dough–chilled butter or margarine; not quite mixing it all the way with the flour; rolling the dough from the inside out and not any more than you need to; and the most satisfying thing of all, crimping the edge–I became a pie-making fool.
I made pies for all occasions and proudly took them all over town. And the pies changed me. That first night with my new friends, I went to bed thinking about how they’d been together 20 years and were still happy, still making their art. I dreamed that night of a simple life with a man for whom I could make pies and with whom I could sit in a garden and tell my stories. Fruit pie is humble. It has that effect.
(NOTE on 3/14: Since it’s not plum season, you have your choice: get your hands on some quality frozen plums–and they’ll be almost just as good. Or use the equivalent in apples. You can keep everything else the same. Fruit pie isn’t rocket science, especially not the fruit part.)
3 sticks margarine, 2 sticks unsalted butter, very cold and cubed, plus 1 stick Crisco, or 4 ounces lard
4 cups flour
3 tablespoons ice water
31/2-4 cups tart plums (or apples!), sliced
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch each of clove and nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup milk
1 egg yolk
Sugar for dusting
In food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse flour and butter and Crisco/lard together until integrated into a coarse crumb, but not totally combined. Drizzle in water and continue to pulse, until just combined. On work surface, form a ball with mixture. Chill at least 1/2 hour.
Cut ball of dough into quarters and roll one quarter about 1/4-inch thick and place into pie pan and cut off the excess dough to edge of pan. Roll out second ball. Using cookie cutter, cut hole directly in center of dough and set aside.
In a bowl, mix filling ingredients and pour into prepared pie pan. Place butter pieces evenly over plums. Drape top crust over filled pie pan. Cut excess top crust, leaving about 3/4 inch to hang over. Fold top crust, tucking it under bottom crust. Crimp edges with thumb and forefinger. Mix milk and egg yolk and brush lightly on pastry. Sprinkle handful of sugar liberally over pie. Bake at 425 degrees until golden brown and fruit inside has broken down and is giving off ample juices, usually about 50 minutes to 1 hour.