Saturday, February 27, 2010

Something for a Rainy Day

It's been pouring on and off since late last night. All grey and green outside my window -- I'm feeling cold on the inside, and warming up is what's called for.

The best bet is soup.

I want to tell you about a soup that I've been making since I was in college -- perhaps before? I mentioned
The New York Times International Cook Book by Craig Claiborne in a previous post. I took photocopies of quite a few of the recipes from that cook book with me to college. They got me started in the kitchen.

The recipe for Tomato Soup in the France section is stellar. It's been on my short list of go-to recipes for almost twenty years. It is a creamy, buttery puree that works perfectly well with canned tomatoes, so there is no need to wait for late summer to whip up a batch.

This soup is rich. I tend to cut back on the butter and often substitute half-and-half for the heavy cream. But this soup also makes you look like a pro, and it really is just a cinch to make.

I think the giant croutons are a must. At first they crunch, but I like them even better when they are soggy with soup. The hint of garlic rubbed on the bread gives a little bite to the mellow warmth in the bowl. Claiborne says you can skip them, but I don't agree.

And by the way, good news! Fe is a fan!

Tomato Soup

3/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced (about two cups)
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 basil leaves, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 1/2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, cored, or 1 35-ounce can tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 3/4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
croutons for garnish (see below)

Heat one-half cup of the butter in a large pot and add the olive oil. Add the onion, thyme, basil, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is wilted.

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir. Simmer ten minutes.

Place the flour in a small mixing bowl and add about five tablespoons of stock, stirring to blend. Stir this into the tomato mixture. Add the remaining chicken stock and simmer thirty minutes, stirring frequently, to make certain that the soup does not stick or burn.

Put the soup through the finest sieve or food mill possible (I used a food processor, but you will get a more refined soup with the sieve or mill.) Add the remaining butter (I didn't do this either. Enough is enough!) swirling it through the soup. Top each portion with crouton, and serve.


8 slices crusty, day-old French or Italian bread
1 large clove garlic, halved
8 teaspoons olive oil, approximately

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Rub the bread slices on both sides with the garlic, then brush generously with olive oil. Place the bread on a baking sheet and bake until golden, turning once if necessary.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Just a quick word. I tried Forage yesterday for lunch. They're in the old Town and Country spot on Sunset in Silver Lake. They've only been open for four weeks, already it seems like just what we need in the neighborhood.

You order at the counter, choosing from a flush inventory of meatball subs, cippolini onion crostini, pork belly, avocado or pastrami sandwiches, quiche of the day, roast jidori chicken, farro and lentil salad, roasted root vegetables, and an array of sweets. It is a little like a tiny Huckleberry.

I had the Awesome Avocado Sandwich, which arrives on crusty french bread with tomato, shaved cabbage, fennel pickles (not very pickle-y) and green garlic aioli. It also comes with soup or salad. I chose the soup. Cabbage and potato.

Loved the sandwich! Not too into the soup. It was a little too rich for my mood. I should have chosen the salad. Also picked up a couple of cinnamon buns for breakfast. So sticky and delicious!

Looking forward to my next meal at Forage. (Also seems like a great place for takeaway.)

3823 West Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Comme Ça Burger

I love hamburgers. More specifically –– cheeseburgers.

I can summon up a pretty ecumenical and open-minded feeling about all sorts of cheeseburgers.

I get cravings for the "animal style" cheeseburger at In-N-Out.

The cheeseburger (with grilled onions) at Pie and Burger is a thing of beauty.

Cassell's is pretty good.

I had the burger at the Bucket once, many years ago, and that was not bad.

When I was a kid, my family was nuts for Fatburger. I like how they pepper their meat.

I'll even sheepishly admit that I get a hankering for the Mini Sirloin Burgers ("riding tall, tall in the saddle...") at Jack in the Box.

And oh, yes! Don't forget Tommy's! I love that chili-cheese burger. Maybe, only once a year, but I wouldn't want to give it up.

Even the Counter is tasty, for a more chichi burger.

I'll order a cheeseburger almost anywhere. And I can, because Los Angeles loves hamburgers.

There are great debates about where you can find the best hamburger in Los Angeles. It's really similar to the Great Pizza Debates. Just check for the latest heated discussion.

To my mind, as of a couple of weeks ago, there really is no debate to have –– no argument at all. I had one of those transcendent food moments that I am always quietly hoping I am on the verge of having.

I was on my way to meet my friend David for lunch at Father's Office –– a very worthy burger joint, with a delicious, fancified burger with carmelized onions, bacon, arugula, gruyère, and blue cheese –– when David called to say that F.O. was not open for lunch. This is something that I used to know before I had a baby and promptly forgot everything. So a change of plans was in order.

"Let's go have the Comme Ça Burger," David suggested.

So we did. And oh my, was that a great idea.

Comme Ça is a likable enough restaurant, especially if you (cough) love the look of the Pottery Barn. I've never been completely blown away by the food or the dining experience as a whole.

This time was different. I ordered the Comme Ça Burger medium rare and a glass of Burgundy. I know this sounds cliché, but this burger was as close to perfection as I have ever experienced.

When it first arrived, I thought to myself, "Oh, no. This is one of those super tall burgers that I will never be able to fit in my mouth." I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. But I was wrong.

The beauty of this burger is that the bun is ultrasoft brioche that easily compresses in your hands and mouth.

The luscious, rosy-red meat was as yielding as the bun. The meat tastes as if it is ground with equal parts meat and butter.

We asked the kitchen, but they swear there is no butter mixed in with the meat. In fact they say there is absolutely nothing in the meat. They season the outside with salt and pepper and cook it. I just called them two seconds ago to confirm the fact that they do not cook the burger in butter.

This is shocking, because this is the richest, most buttery burger that I've eaten thusfar. They sear it and then throw it in the oven to finish cooking. It is so wonderfully beefy that David and I kept sniffing the meat just to inhale a little bit more of its beefiness.

The cheddar cheese seems to melt into the burger, and is not readily apprehensible as its own discrete entity. It adds fat and flavor, but not the typical layer of cheese feeling in your mouth or to your eye.

There's no ketchup. It isn't needed. Shredded iceberg lettuce and thinly sliced white onion are tossed in aioli and then tucked between the bun and the meat. It's impossible to think of a way to improve upon this combination.

Although the fries were exceptionally good, they aren't really necessary. The Burgundy was, and if it weren't for me trying very hard to live a more frugal life, I would have partaken of just one more glass.

This all sounds so basic. I'm not sure if I'm enough of a wordsmith to convey just how incredible this burger is. Does it help if I say that it blew my mind? Yeah, probably not.

I'd advise sampling it immediately, and then you will surely understand. It was probably the best meal for under $30 that I've had in ages.

Comme Ça
8479 Melrose Ave.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Try These Peas Please!

Delicious! Please give these Le Sueur Very Young Sweet Peas a try. From Minnesota!

They're not as good as fresh and they're very different from frozen, but in their own right they are mighty tasty.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Most Subtle Soup in the World

Last night's dinner was not spectacular. I was just too tired, and in a rotten mood to boot. I was planning a beautiful turnip and potato gratin, but I couldn't find it in me to do it.

We ended up instead with Trader Joe's Biriyani and Channa Masala (chickpeas!), sautéed turnips (thanks C.S.A.!), watercress with a lemon vinaigrette –– and soup. French Cream of Cauliflower Soup (thanks again, C.S.A.!).

This soup is the most understated soup that I have ever prepared. That may be my fault. Perhaps, not enough cauliflower and too much water. I can't tell if I ate this in a restaurant, if I would find it sublime and subtle or simply bland. It is straddling a fence, for sure.

I would definitely try this soup again, though –– twice.

Once, following the brilliant Alice Waters instructions in
Chez Panisse Vegetables more carefully, using a two to three pound cauliflower, instead of an almost two pound cauliflower.

And again, using chicken stock in lieu of water. The soup would certainly be more velvety with more cauliflower, and perhaps more flavorful.

I do very much like the use of crème fraîche here, creamy yet tangy.

French Cream of Cauliflower Soup

1 large cauliflower (2 to 3 pounds)
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons crème fraîche

Cut off the stem and leaves of the cauliflower and break it into flowerets. Rinse them in cold water. Reserve a handful of flowerets to garnish the soup (I did not do this. I think tiny croutons would be nicer.).

In a soup pot, stew the onion and the cauliflower in the butter with a little water for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let them brown. Add water to cover and cook for 25 minutes, covered, over medium heat. Meanwhile, parboil the reserved flowerets in boiling salted water for 8 minutes or so, keeping them crunchy.

Purée the soup in a blender and reheat gently to just under boiling. Add the crème fraîche and season with salt and nutmeg to taste. Serve the soup hot hot hot, garnished with the flowerets and chervil.

*** Final Note ***

I ate this soup three more times. I'm now a fan. It is still without a doubt subtle, but there is a loveliness in that. Even before I manage to remake it, I now feel able to wholeheartedly recommend this soup.

Although delightful with chives, I'm still banking on tiny buttery brioche croutons as the winning garnish here.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

More CSA Bounty... Carrots Redux

I've forgotten about carrots for years now.

I haven't considered the carrot as a worthy vegetable in its own right since the days when I worked in a restaurant kitchen in Santa Cruz, California.

Back then, at Oswald, we served roasted carrots with roast pork and fig jam, alongside garlic mashed potatoes. That was back in the '90s. The garlic mashed potatoes were probably a dead giveaway. Don't they just seem so old school?

Lately carrots are making a big comeback for me.

They've been showing up with quite a bit of regularity in our CSA bag, and I'm remembering that they don't have to be relegated to the stock pot. I've been cooking them up with a little butter and chopped shallots for Fe, and they are a hit.

Though what's really got me excited is the Carrot Salad with Cumin and Garlic recipe from Claudia Roden's

This is definitely one of the easiest recipes in the book. It takes no time at all. There really isn't much to it, but somehow it heats up your relationship with carrots all over again. Plus it pleases the whole family. Fe is a fan.

Carrot Salad with Cumin and Garlic

5 large carrots (about 1 1/4 pounds)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and black pepper
juice of 1/2 a lemon

Peel the carrots and trim the ends. Cut them in half or thirds crosswise and cut each section into quarters to produce sticks. Boil in salted water for 8 to 10 minutes until tender, but not mushy.

In a large saute pan, heat the oil and add the carrots, garlic, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Saute on medium heat, stirring or shaking and flipping, until the garlic just begins to color. Toss with the lemon juice and serve cold.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

No One Cares What You Had For Lunch

Okay that may be true, but I do. This is a weblog for me –– a place to keep track of what I have been cooking, what I have been eating and what I have been reading. So, sorry if it may seem like a big bore, but I am going to post what we've been eating on a regular basis.

This may prove to be supremely humiliating on the third night of reheated pizza, but so be it. I think it will help me become a better cook, and a more organized cook. It will also help me avoid repeating the same boring sides over and over again. I have a zillion cookbooks for pete's sake! Time to really use them.