Sunday, August 30, 2009

Attack of the Mac

Mac and Cheese with a Texan Twist
and Blackberry Spinach Salad

The suggestion was made, and it was instantly accepted: Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese. We’re fans of Alton Brown and his scientific approach to cooking, so we followed his recipe for Baked Macaroni and Cheese, with some adjustments.

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon powdered mustard
3 cups milk
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 large egg
12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes. Make sure it's free of lumps. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes and remove the bay leaf. Temper in the egg. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.
For the topping: Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

The Adapting and Twisting
We used Rigatoni, a medium-sized tube pasta. While I was chopping onions and shredding the cheese, Chason was cooking BACON. That’s his mac and cheese philosophy—about ten pieces of bacon we would chop up and throw into the mix.While making the roux, a happy little roommate elf came by and suggested I use a roux whisk. It’s sort of a 2-D flattened out version of a whisk that allows you to get to all of the sides of the pan. A revelation for gravy making! The most exciting part was adding the cheddar to the simmering milk-onion-melange. When you think this light, wimpy sauce isn’t going to amount to anything, a few minutes involved with the cheese and it turns a hard right onto Delicious St. We added some chili powder and a smidge of paprika to spice it up. The powdered mustard made a huge difference, too. I would never have thought of it. Lastly, we used Italian bread crumbs instead of panko. Changes it a bit, but still delicious!

It was about 10:30 when we pulled it from the oven. I made a spinach salad with blackberries, and tried to make a fresh orange vinaigrette, but unfortunately it was too salty. Just an experiment.
The end result: Spicy, delicious, and nice chunks of bacon. Fantastic. I gave myself a huge portion, ate it too fast, and quickly slipped into a coma as we watched The Seven Year Itch, and I had a gin and tonic.

next...Mucho Mas Mexican!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Julie & Julia or perhaps just Julia

Film: Julie & Julia
written and directed by Nora Ephron

I wasn’t exactly sure who Nora Ephron was. I thought she was the author of saucy novels. In actuality she is the director of such Rom-Com classics as Sleepless in Seattle and by proxy, You’ve Got Mail.
I was already excited for the prospect to see Julia Child in action, played by the always spot-on Meryl Streep. Unfortunately I never saw much of her show when it was still on air during the early days of the Food Network. My mom was fond of Two Fat Ladies*, and the Galloping Gourmet*.
Many reviews come to a consensus that a movie about Julia Child would have been better, instead of interlacing it with the story of Julie Powell’s blog. But the success of the blog was the inspiration to make the whole movie. The unfortunate part is that the real life Julie Powell had nothing to do with the making of the film. Her rights were sold, and that was that. I assume that the majority of the audience for Julie & Julia is a dedicated crop of Julia Child fans like me who felt disappointment that they couldn’t see more of her life dramatized by Meryl Streep. If I had been a fan of the blog at the time, I’m sure it would have been great for me to see. Alas, that’s not the case.
The 1940’s French kitchen sets were exquisite, decked with copper pans, millions of whisks, and wooden islands. The scenes in cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu were fantastic. It’s clear Julia Child was a very determined woman, to fight against gender stereotypes and a language barrier to be accepted as a professional chef. Her father was a Pasadena Republican (ha!), and she settled in Cambridge, MA by the time Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published by Knopf. I was buzzing in my seat with the familiarities of home, Boston, and Paris. When Julia moved back to California in 2001, her Cambridge Kitchen was moved in its entirety to Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Behring Center. It’s now on my list of things to see before I die.
Another reason I saw this film was because there was a full feature of Amy Adams in the L.A. Times Calendar section a few weeks ago. I felt so proud for her.
One unseen joy of the film is the sex! What better complements food than sex? There were a few bedroom scenes throughout the film where both Julie and Julia get it on with their husbands respectively. Thanks, Nora.
In the past few years, I’ve enjoyed watching biopic films, re: Ray, Capote, and The Soloist (two incidentally featuring Jaime Foxx.) Meryl Streep was the right choice. You can trust her with anyone. She recreated the quality of Julia’s voice and swagger, and made them her own. Bravo.

To read up on Julia Child:
Read Julie Powell’s blog:

Next…mac and cheese with a Texan twist!

For FUNnotes:

*Two Fat Ladies was on BBC2 initially, and ran from 1996-1999. It featured Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson, travelling the United Kingdom on a Triumph Thunderbird driven by Paterson. Wright rode in the sidecar as they travelled to various destinations. They enjoyed strong flavors and lots of fat. The opening credits to the show were animated, featuring a song the ladies had written themselves. –wiki-

*Galloping Gourmet was a TV show during the 1960’s and 70’s featuring a gregarious British-Scottish chef Graham Kerr, who would prepare many of his foods with wine, and would often be drunk by the end of the episode. “The series was known for its lighthearted humor, tomfoolery, and the copious use of clarified butter, cream, and fat.”-wiki

Sunday, August 23, 2009

French Birthday Brunching

La Frite Café, Sherman Oaks.
15013 Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks, Ca 91403'

The street is crowded by restaurants and shops, lined up in the traditional California way, like in the Arts Colony in Pomona, or up in San Francisco. A very grand display, with a Buffalo Exchange clothing store a few blocks down the street from the older, and the more established restaurants and shops near La Frite Café. What should I expect going to a place called ‘the fry’? Some classic, basic and essential French food in the part of Sherman Oaks I had never seen.

To celebrate my brother’s 29th birthday the criteria was a restaurant that served Sunday brunch and La Frite has a $21.95 prix fixe menu all ready for us. I started with coffee and water, and by the time the basket of assorted fresh croissants came to our table, I was ready for some fresh orange juice. Between the four of us, we ate three of the four appetizers. I had the Soupe du Jour--fresh asparagus, cream and chicken stock with chives and crème fraîche. My brother ate a Chilled Half Cantaloupe Filled with Strawberries in Port Wine and Fresh Mint. I tried a sliver of cantaloupe. I had never heard of the dish, but it immediately registered as something very simple and unadulterated, four flavors working together, simply. My father and my brother’s girlfriend each had the Brunch Antipasto, which was a sprawl of smoked salmon, decorative spoon-lumps of cream cheese, hard-boiled eggs with double yolks, some sliced red onion, a pile of crème fraîche topped with some black caviar, and served with white toast points.

By the time my Eggs Benedict came to the table, I was near full. Two extra large eggs, very artfully poached, placed on top of two halves of an English muffin with a slice of Canadian Bacon, and covered in a rich Hollandaise sauce. (I have made Hollandaise sauce once, and unfortunately i did just so I could make it. It sat around in my fridge until it went bad. Oh well!) It came with moist baked breakfast potatoes (with tomatoes and onions in the mix—great!) and a side of creamed spinach. Poor spinach. I should have said no, and yes to some fresh fruit instead. Seemed too rich. I was bursting. My brother’s girlfriend got the Sauteed Fresh Rainbow Trout ‘Grenobloise.’ (Which also came with sides of potatoes and creamed spinach!) A grenobloise sauce, for the city in southeastern France, is made of browned butter, capers, parsley, lemon, and is also served with sole.

(Grenoble is right next to a very beautiful strip of the Alps, close to the German and Italian borders, making for some delicious cross-cultural culinary dishes landing on restaurant dinner plates. During my visit to France in 2002, we passed through Grenoble on our way back north to Paris from Avignon. We ate at an awfully bland Tex-Mex restaurant, run by a Frenchman who had studied at Cal Tech here in Pasadena, CA. The world shrank so small that day!)

My brother had the French Toast with Mixed Berries and Maple Syrup. How could it not even be called Pain Perdu? This bothered me. While having the menu in English is clearly a marketing choice, the menu was very clearly suffering from the American syndrome, because the portions were huge! La Frite Café has been cooking away for the past 25+ years, and the modest portions that characterize French cuisine was thrown out the window a long time ago. The size of the portions is supposed to counterbalance all of the butter! So our bellies may have suffered in being stretched to their limits, but our tears were tears made of sweet cream and champagne. The men were lauding their recent exercise and diet feats, and that today was their day off from counting calories.
Our waiter Terry caught wind that it was my brother’s birthday. Along with the Chocolate Banana Caramel Crepe with La Frite homemade Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramelized Walnuts, the waiter brought a sliced of Warm Chocolate-Raisin Bread Pudding with Caramel Cream Sauce, and small custard cup of whipped cream with a lit candle in it. Everyone couldn’t get enough of the Banana Crepe, which arrived in an oven-hot casserole dish, but I took a bite, and that was it. Sometimes eating a few too many walnuts doesn’t bode well. I’m realizing I don’t much like the taste. We all couldn’t believe we piled away everything, and I was still sipping coffee as the check came. I took the potatoes and creamed spinach home, which will hopefully make for an exciting egg breakfast tomorrow.

I’d be interested to return to La Frite again to try some of the dessert crepes, the Onion Soup, Ratatouille, Baked Brie with Marinara, Chicken Cordon Bleu, or the various “Chopped Steak and Frites” selections, which may deceive, but you can’t hide the fact that you’re going to be served a hamburger.

Just think twice about getting the brunch. Make sure you’re very, very hungry, and that your stomach is in the mood for a digest-a-thon.

The best part of French Cuisine is the manner of its consumption, the time between courses longer than the American custom, leaving air for discussion and enjoyment. On that note, the service was excellent. It seemed every other minute I was getting a refill of the one-inch vacancy in my coffee and water glass. The delivery of the dishes was well-timed for digestion’s sake, and for conversation to flourish. The clientele at La Frite was various, and the outdoor patio seating seemed very inviting, the manager popping about asking us about our food. While the entire menu isn’t strictly French, it's an ideal match for me. It's got paper placemats, and you can listen to Contemporary Alt Rock while you eat. Délicieux!

next post...le film Julie and Julia!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mexican Beer and French Bread

I was a counter person for my first real job. I would wake up at 6:oo A.M. and walk a half-mile to get to Wildflour Baking Co. on Sierra Madre Blvd here in Sierra Madre. I'd put the hot danish and croissants onto the trays, and make the coffee. The French artisanal baguettes and loaves going into the giant ovens at around 9 o clock. Every other afternoon, I'd have to help form the loaves of bread for the next two days. One person weighs them out on a scale, the other shapes the loaf, places it in a basket where it's going to sit overnight in the fridge. I never got to be a baker there, but I got to handle my fair share of bread, and so I started baking it from scratch.

On Monday night, I went to a birthday party potluck in Altadena and brought some French rolls that I made late in the afternoon. The invitation said it was a BYOB. I only had enough money for gas, and so I made a poor man's offering, while Chason bought a 12-pack of Negra Modelo. We both brought the same thing, just in different forms.

The rolls turned out delicious. I minced a few springs of rosemary and threw it into the flour mixture along with the coarse sea salt, to make for a tastier, more subtle flavor.

Yesterday I took on the bread again! This time I added a little cardamom. I use Julia Child's recipe as a springboard, from her book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol II."

Cardamom Loaves

1 cake of yeast
(what I have)
2 1/4 tsp Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast
1/4 warm water (about 100 degrees F)
1 tsp sugar for proofing

Dissolve yeast into warm water. Add sugar to mixture. If it doubles in volume and becomes foamy in ten minutes, the yeast is active and ready to go.

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, taking care to loosely scoop, and level off with a knife
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1 1/4 cups tepid water

Mix yeast and water into flour mixture, and begin to cut the liquids into the flour with a bench knife. If you don't have a bench knife, use a rubber spatula.

Many others have tried to do what I tried to do. Check out their story.

After the first kneading process, which takes about 15 minutes by hand, when the gluten molecules are bonded at the dough is 'springy,' the bread is left to rise in a bowl for 3 1/2 to 5 hours. Covering the dough in plastic wrap, and the bowl covered with a folded towel. Make sure it's at around 70 degrees, nowhere that's too drafty. Wait until it has tripled in volume. Dough can be left to rise overnight in the fridge, which takes about 9 hours. Perfect for making Friday or Saturday night before you go to bed for the next day's dinner.

In my case, I started the dough at 10:45 a.m., and punched it down at 3:30 p.m., so I did Julia justice. This time you knead the dough for about five minutes, pinching out any gas bubbles in the dough.

I let it rise for another 1 1/2 to 3 hours, at which point it had doubled in volume. I was supposed to wait until triple volume, again, but I was running out of time. I cut the dough into three, and formed them into demi-baguettes.

From the formed stage, they're supposed to rise another 1 1/2 hours and double in volume, but I let them settle for 30 minutes before going in the oven. Can you guess which one I formed first?

In the end I was happy. I cracked one open and slapped some SmartBalance spread on it. The resulting bread was slightly dense and a little yeasty, but that was the price to pay for using the proportions of yeast+flour. Come to think of it, when I do it again, I'll either decrease the yeast amount or make sure I have the time and equipment (canvas, cornmeal, razor for slashing the loaves) to make the bread the way Madame Julia intended it.

By the way, I haven't seen Julie and Julia yet, but I'm very excited. I imagine I will cry bouillabaisse tears of joy.

Cheers for beers,

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Inaugural Eggs

Welcome to my new blog--Felicious Food!
To the left is a picture of me eating on the Champs de Mars in Paris in the summer of 2007.

I decided that I should put my love for food somewhere. I fell in love with the Food Network when I was 16, and then went to France to have culinary palate explosions, one after the other. From there, I started teaching myself more. Lately my interests are branching out to Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Thai cuisines.

Happy August Noshing. It's fresh out there. Hope you can afford the Farmer's Market Produce, or a few minutes to make something for yourself in the kitchen.

Egg and Avocado Sandwich
breakfast 8.13.09

On Tuesday, I spent part of my afternoon making a small batch of caramelized onions. I stood within ten feet of the pan, patiently stirring every few minutes while I watched "Paris is Burning", a documentary about the underground 'vogue' dance movement in NYC in the 80s and 90s, popularized by Madonna. The onions are a deep brown, savory and sweet. I was thinking of serving them over some roasted zucchini, but this morning I needed some eggs. I have some avocados, so I knew I was heading in a delicious direction. I was reminded of the breakfast sandwiches you could order at Darwin's in Cambridge.

2 pc. wheat toast (preferably multigrain with seeds)
2 eggs
2 oz sliced medium cheddar cheese
1/2 avocado
2 tbsp caramelized onion
2 tsp mayonnaise
sprinkle Italian seasoning
salt and pepper

Preheat the pan to medium. Toast the two slices of bread at a low to medium setting. Turn on the broiler/oven to high. Slice the cheese as thin as you can, or if not, grated would work just fine, possibly messier. Cut up half the avocado into lengthwise slices. Crack the eggs into the pan, season with a little salt and pepper, and put a lid over the top to let the yolk steam. They should take about a minute. While waiting for the eggs, Spread the mayo on one slice of the bread, and sprinkle it with the Italian seasoning. (both slices optional.) Lay the avocado on one mayo'd side, and then spread the onions on top. Flip the eggs. Wait 30 seconds, and then put them on the bread. cover both sides with cheese. Put the slices side by side on a sheet pan, (or if your frying pan is large enough and has a safe handle, just use that!) and place them under the broiler. Wait one minute. The cheese should just be gooey. Remove the pan and stack the sandwich together on a plate. Wait about 20 seconds to let the cheese settle, then slice in half and eat! Yum and Satisfaction.

Serve with coffee and the Calendar Section.