Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas!

If you haven't heard it once already today, Merry Christmas!

This round of holiday cooking was not so hectic, and was less disastrous in terms of burns and injuries.

This year, my brother, mom, and I split up a few simple, seasonal, fresh, and mostly healthy dishes, while my dad manned the kitchen sink, sponge, and wine bottle.

First up was the Spiced Carrot-Apple Soup with Fresh Mint, made entirely by my mom. The soup had a really smooth texture, and the ginger, nutmeg, and allspice made this a really seasonal start to the meal. The mint really brightened things up, and the finely diced apples added some light sweetness to the soup. The soup was also a perfect way to counteract the onslaught of rain over the past week.

My mom also had some frozen Pão de Queijo from a Brazilian friend who made them for her. That was some legit Pão de Queijo, and made me wish I were back in Brazil.

The main plate was a trio of meat and veggies.

I made the Roasted Red and Golden Beets with Sauteed Beet Greens, which ended up being very satisfying. The beets also added some nice holiday colors to the dish. What I love about roasted golden beets is the way they take on some of the flavors and textures of a sweet potato. I would recommend substituting sweet potatoes with roasted golden beets, but sweet potatoes are too delicious, and healthy, to justify substitution.

The Cauliflower Mash with Roasted Garlic, Pan-Roasted Chanterelles, and Crispy Rosemary was a little bit rough this time around. The cauliflower from Thanksgiving was great, but what I found out this time around is that you can over-blend a cauliflower mash, to the point where the texture takes on a very excessively puréed texture. I think my mom and I also got a little too excited with the roasted garlic this time around, which was unfortunate. The chanterelles were good, and the crispy rosemary was great. The mash wasn't horrible, but a day for redemption is definitely in the works.

My brother is, among other things, the resident steak expert. And his Grilled Tri-Tip Steak did not disappoint. The outside was perfectly charred, and the inside was tender and juicy. He's like a jedi steakmaster when it comes to getting a piece of steak to a nice medium-rare. He just waves hand in front of the steak, mutters something along the lines of, "You will be medium-rare," and then the steak turns medium-rare.

His dog, Fuji, got a little bit of the leftover steak, and I think Fuji agreed that the steak was a great piece of meat.

The last thing my mom was in charge of was the Mixed Fruit & Greens Salad. My mom has always been pretty talented at making salads that bring vegetables and fruits together really well. This time around, the kiwi and Asian pear were a great way to complement the refreshing cucumbers and radishes. The salad was actually the last thing most of us ate before dessert because it was so refreshing and helped to balance out all that delicious meat.

Dessert was a Trio of Pan-Seared Pears and Persimmons with Honey Lavender, Mascarpone-Stuffed Dates, and Sugar-Free Vanilla Ice Cream. The Pan-Seared Pears and Persimmons with Honey Lavender was surprisingly simple and delicious. The honey had a good amount of citrus to balance out the sweetness of the honey and fruits, while the lavender added a nice, subtle floral aftertaste that also helped to lighten the dessert. I decided to go with slightly unripened hachiya persimmons, instead of fuyu persimmons (yes, I had to look those up) because I wanted the softness of the hachiya variety to contrast the firmer pears. I also felt like the hachiya persimmons have more depth and would stand up well against the honey and citrus better. The Mascarpone-Stuffed Dates were also simple and delicious. The sweetness of the dates balanced really well with the creaminess of the mascarpone, and the unsweetened cocoa powder added a good bitterness to the dates, which was sweetened up with just a eighth-pinch of stevia. The last component of the dessert was a Sugar-Free Vanilla Ice Cream, which was store-bought because my ice cream maker was at home, and my mom really wanted me to try this ice cream. The ice cream was by Good Karma Organic Rice Divine's Very Vanilla. I know, it's kind of a ridiculous name, but it ended up being really creamy and substantial for a sugar-free ice cream. Also, what's a dessert without some ice cream anyways?

Overall, I had a great time cooking and teaming up with my family to enjoy a small, simple, healthy, and seasonal meal on Christmas Eve. So the brussel sprouts and the fig jam didn't make it onto the menu last night, but they'll make an appearance at some point, and the soup was a great last-minute addition. In the meantime, with Christmas over, it looks like the next holiday meal might not be for a while. But keep an eye out for a New Year's Eve post about my inevitably overambitious goals and resolutions.

Spiced Carrot-Apple Soup with Fresh Mint
Bon Appétit

Roasted Red and Golden Beets with Sauteed Beet Greens
Inspired by

Cauliflower Mash with Roasted Garlic, Pan-Roasted Chanterelles, and Crispy Rosemary

Grilled Tri-Tip Steak

Mixed Fruit & Greens Salad

Trio of Pan-Seared Pears and Persimmons with Honey Lavender, Mascarpone-Stuffed Dates, and Sugar-Free Vanilla Ice Cream
Inspired by Food & Wine Magazine

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve!

The holidays means another attempt at a holiday dinner. Last year, my mom cooked up this beast of a roast beef, and it was dang diggity good. This time around, I'm cooking with my mom. Here's the proposed, diabetic-friendly menu:

Mixed Greens Salad
Pan-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon, Garlic, and Cayenne Pepper
Roasted Beets and Sauteed Beet Greens
Cauliflower Mash with Roasted Garlic, Pan-Roasted Chanterelles, and Crispy Rosemary
Grilled Tri-Tip Steak
Trio of Pan-Seared Pears and Persimmons with Honey Lavender and Fig Jam, Mascarpone-Stuffed Dates, and Sugar-Free Vanilla Ice Cream

Have a safe holiday season, and look for a post tomorrow about how everything turned out!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Scarpetta is a very special restaurant. Beyond its prices, swanky interiors, and Beverly HIlls location, Scarpetta's food shines through all presumptions and unexpectedly pushes the boundaries of what is hearty and comforting Italian food.

Scarpetta appropriately means "little shoe," or the shape bread takes when used to soak up a dish. The second definition is appropriate for obvious reasons; at Ian's suggestion, he brought out extra bread to soak up the remnants of our dishes. The first definition is appropriate because as I soaked up sauce with the bread, I felt like a little kid wearing my little shoes, dangling from a high chair.

With a little time to spare,
Steph C. and I grabbed a quick cocktail.

I had the San Remo, which was a perfect balance of Maker's Mark, Campari, Sweet Vermouth, and Elderflower Liqueur. She had the Torino, which was Grey Goose Citrus, Strawberries, and Rock Candy Syrup. Needless to say, it was sweet, but still refreshing thanks to the citrus vodka. Drinks at the bar were accompanied by an addictively salty bowl of potato chips and crispy rosemary. I couldn't stop eating the rosemary while sipping on my drink.

Right on time, my friend June and the man behind effing dericious arrived for what would prove to be a ridiculously epic meal.

The first food to come out was an overflowing Bread Basket. This is the mother of all bread baskets for eight reasons. First, there are four types of bread in this basket: Italian Bread, Focaccia, Ciabatta, and Stromboli. Second, the bread came with three sides: Eggplant Caponata, Butter Mascarpone, and Citrus-Infused Olive Oil.

Third, the Focaccia was amazing, and went particularly well with the Butter Mascarpone. The creamy spread added an addictive taste and texture to the well-oiled and slightly crispy bread. Fourth, the Stromboli.

Oh Lord the Stromboli. Bread, cheese, and salami. In a bread basket. For free. Each bite was a bite of Italian heaven. Fifth, the Stromboli with the Eggplant Caponata made something I thought couldn't get better, better. Sixth, the Stromboli with the Eggplant Caponata. Seventh, the Stromboli with the Eggplant Caponata. And finally, eighth, more free bread on request. After a generous few helpings of bread, out came the food.

We started with the Roasted Sea Scallops with Caramelized Sunchokes & Porcini Mushrooms. These perfectly roasted scallops were divine. The mushrooms and sunchokes added a nice earthy flavor to a protein that comes from the sea. Each chew of the scallop was as easy as it was tasty.

The Duck & Foie Gras Ravioli with a Marsala Reduction was a little bit on the dry side, but not as heavy as I thought it would be. The foie was probably only there to keep the duck as moist as possible, but the texture still suffered from the duck's dryness. Overall, the taste was great, and the marsala reduction added a nice kick to the otherwise creamy dish.

The Creamy Polenta with a Fricassee of Truffled Mushrooms was easily my favorite starter of the night. The polenta is aptly labeled "creamy." Each bite was creamy, cheesy, comforting, and cloudy (I wanted a word that started with "c" that meant fluffy...).

Before I could even mention the comparison, Steph C. asked if the fricassee is what the gravy at Laurelhurst Market tasted like, except with chanterelles instead of porcinis. It did. So yes, it was delicious.

Next came the pasta mains.

With Steph C.'s prior experience with Scarpetta, we decided to order two of the famous $24 Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil, and thank goodness we did. The portions weren't even all that small, but I could probably eat about 10 plates of that spaghetti every day. Our waiter, Ian, had no qualms with telling us that he's eaten that spaghetti three times in one day on a few occasions. The pasta itself is out of this world. Chef Scott Conant takes the meaning of fresh homemade pasta to a another level. The noodles were perfectly cooked, leaving just enough chew to really get the most flavor out of the pasta itself with each bite. The tomato sauce wasn't creamy or heavy; it was just fresh. The way the sauce clung to the spaghetti was beautiful, and the smell of fresh tomatoes matched its taste. Though there weren't too many basil leaves in the pasta, the garlic and basil infused olive oil added a lot of depth and flavor to the tomato sauce. This dish was so comforting and so delicious that I cried tomato sauce tears on my pillow that night.

My second favorite pasta of the night was the Toasted Spelt Pasta alla Chitarra with Pumpkin, Porcini, and Asiago. We ordered this not only because it sounded delicious, but because it seemed like a good diabetic-friendly dish. Like the spaghetti, this pasta took on a great flavor on its own. The toasted spelt added a distinct flavor to the pasta, and the texture of the pasta was so light and delicate that someone compared the pasta to cup noodles. Obviously, this bowl of pasta was much more than just a bowl of cup noodles, but the comparison was well made. The cubes of pumpkin added jolts of comforting flavor, and the perfect hints of asiago and porcini made the dish a light and refreshing pasta dish.

The least successful pasta was the Beet & Smoked Ricotta Casonsei with Pistachio Nuts & Poppy Seeds. Though the casonsei itself was, of course, delicious, the rest of the ingredients were overpowered by an excess of poppy seeds. The poppy seeds combined with the pistachio nuts made for a heavy, nutty dish. I couldn't really taste the beets come through at all, though the smoked ricotta was really good. We still ate every last bit of it though.

The only meat course we ordered was the Pancetta-Wrapped Veal Tenderloin with Sweetbreads & Autumn Vegetable Ragu. The veal was beautifully sous-vide, and the paper thin pancetta added some good, but not overpowering, flavor and texture to the veal. The vegetable ragu had a lot of substance and added some good seasonal flavors to the melt-in-your-mouth veal. The sweetbreads added some crispiness and heaviness to the relatively light ragu, leaving behind an addictive sauce that called for some serious "scarpetta-ing."

Though we were already stuffed, a glance at the dessert menu made for a reasonable order of two desserts.

The Coconut Panna Cotta with Guava Soup & Caramelized Pineapple. This dessert was extremely tropical, but very grounded in the light and delicious panna cotta. The guava soup wasn't too thick, and the subtle taste of the caramelized pineapple was a great way to balance out a big meal. The tuile on top added some necessary crunch and almond flavors.

The Chocolate Cake with Burnt Orange-Caramel Gelato & Espresso Sauce was not so light. The cake itself was moist and had just the right amount of rich chocolate. The cake definitely needed an ice cream or gelato to calm down the intensity of the chocolate cake, and the burnt orange-caramel gelato did just the trick. The gelato tasted like a salted caramel ice cream or gelato, with a light orange aftertaste. I love chocolate with oranges, so this was right up my alley. The espresso sauce was subtle, but definitely added to the already delicious flavor profile. My only complaint was that there wasn't enough of that addictive gelato to balance out the generous portion of chocolate cake.

So we asked for more, but at that point, we had already demolished the cake. Ian laughed and without hesitation agreed to bring out some more of the gelato. We just asked to have a little bit more because the gelato was so good.

Minutes later, Ian came out with basically another whole dessert, off-the-menu and on-the-house: Burnt Orange-Caramel Gelato, Almond Biscotti, and Espresso Sauce. Needless to say, the generous quenelles were just as good as the first.

After an immensely satisfying and fun dinner, Ian invited us to see the kitchen.

Without a second's hesitation, we all said, "Yes."

The kitchen is beautiful, from the fresh herbs to the wide counter space.

The chefs were very approachable as well. In the corner of the kitchen, there's a small dining area that people can reserve if they want to catch all the kitchen action. You can either request a tasting menu or create your own menu after discussing your options with the person taking your reservation. Next time, I definitely want to do this.

As the experience came to an end, after all the fun conversations we had about the Magic Castle to food trucks to Ian's off-the-menu meals (apparently the polenta with some braised short rib and a barolo reduction is to die for), we went to the outside sitting area to digest.

Even the outside sitting area was amazing. Tall torches of warmth gave us the feeling of being in front of a fireplace.

Right about when we were all going to fall into nap mode, we headed home, only to dream about Chef Scott Conant's spaghetti.

225 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 860-7800

GET: The Free Bread Basket; Creamy Polenta with a Fricassee of Truffled Mushrooms; Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil; Toasted Spelt Pasta alla Chitarra with Pumpkin, Porcini, and Asiago; Coconut Panna Cotta with Guava Soup & Caramelized Pineapple; Burnt Orange-Caramel Gelato; Ian As Your Waiter.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Laurelhurst Market

Laurelhurst Market makes you fall in love with beef all over again. With an increasingly criticized beef surplus in the United States, you can't help but think that Laurelhurst Market is doing everything right. This isn't a place you go to to waste meat. This is a place where you pay homage to an amazingly delicious meat and savor every single morsel of perfectly cooked beef.

Tucked away in a relatively deserted area of Burnside Street, Laurelhurst Market bustles with excitement.

Though they only take reservations for parties of six or more, the line moves fast enough for you to grab one of their famous cocktails before getting seated.

The bar is well-stocked, from Jim Beam to celery bitters.

I had a chance to sample their two whiskey-based cocktails.

The Smoke Signals features Tennessee Whiskey, sherry, pecan, lemon, and smoked ice. Let me say that again. Smoked. Ice. Technique aside, this cocktail combines flavors that have the effect of feeling like you're drinking a city whiskey at a rural campfire. Addictive and delicious.

The Vieux Carre has rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, and benedictine. In a way, this tasted very much like a Manhattan with less citrus and more herbal flavors. This was also an excellent drink that made me wish I had the tolerance of a whale.

I've had the chance to sample Laurelhurst Market's food twice now, and each time has been amazing. The first time, I went with the insatiable baker and Doug, her hubs. The second time I went with effing dericious and his sister, Charlene.

Both times, I had the House-Cured Oregon Ling Cod Fritters with Aioli, and both times, they hit the spot. The fritters are nice and crispy, and give way to a well-seasoned mash of cod. Though the fritters were delicious on their own, the aioli adds a nice creamy balance to the saltiness of the fritters.

Similarly, the Fried Zucchini with Harissa were fried to perfection, and were extremely addictive, partially because I felt like the squash was healthier and warranted stuffing them in my mouth more quickly. The harissa added a nice amount of heat to the mix and the harissa also added that same creaminess as the cod fritters aioli did.

The Fried Sweetbreads with Whole-Grain Mustard are the last of the fried foods I've had here. Whoever is in charge of frying in the kitchen has some serious frying skills. This was basically a glorified chicken nugget with some glorified mustard dipping sauce, and both are glorified versions for good reason. Whole-grain mustard is one of those things that I could seriously eat by itself for extended periods of time.

And the sweetbreads had that nice, plump, juicy texture that makes sure you remember that you're not eating anything close to a salad. Overall, really good.

The Marrow Bones with Parsley, Pickled Shallot, Capers, and Toast are also addictive. The marrow is thick and comforting, and the parsley pistou adds a nice brightness to the dish. A scoop of marrow on the toast, topped with some pistou, capers, and pickled shallot made for an irresistible bite filled with umami, acidity, and freshness with crunchy textures from the toast and the shallots. Marrow bones is one of those things that tips you into knowing that this butcher shop doesn't like to waste parts of the cow.

Both times I had to get the "Egg in a Hole" with Chanterelle Gravy. The egg is cooked in a frame of brioche toast, which is then served on top of an addictive chanterelle gravy. The gravy is just salty enough, and soaks into the toast with the egg yolk. This was what inspired me to do a mushroom gravy for Thanksgiving.

The Dijon & Creme Fraiche Mussels Frites with Cippolini Onions and Preserved Lemon are a standard, and are also really addictive. The creaminess from the creme and the dijon balances really well with the citrus from the preserved lemon. The only bad part about this dish is that it's a little difficult to handle the Jenga tower of fries and mussels. Other than that though, I had a lot of fun soaking up the well-fried fries (again, who is in the kitchen frying these masterpieces) in the creamy, delicious broth. The mussels were standard, but good, as expected at a meat shop.

Of the sides, the Braised Lacinato Kale with Housemade Bacon is a perfect way to convince yourself that you're eating something healthy with your steaks and fried foods. The kale takes on the nice meaty flavor of the bacon, but not so much as to make you feel like you're eating pig leaves. The braise makes the kale soggy, but full of flavor. This reminded me of a solid bowl of Southern collard greens.

The Bluebird Grains Emmer Farro, Wild Mushrooms, Creme Fraiche, and Winter Squash is also a great way to feel like you're eating something healthy, but actually is healthy. The farro was cooked perfectly and the chunks of winter squash added little bursts of flavor. The creme also brought everything together to make the dish taste more like a risotto, and the wild mushrooms added one last earthy flavor to the mix.

The Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon, Anchovy and Piment d'Espelette were probably my favorite of the sides, and also my favorite preparation of brussels sprouts. The sprouts had a nice char, which added a lot of flavor to a sometimes unpleasant green. The lemon provided a great acidity to balance out the oils from the pan roast, and the strong flavor from the anchovy. The piment also threw in a nice, light heat to the dish.

Alright. Enough with the starters and sides. On with the meats!

As expected, the meats here were quality.

I've had three of their steaks so far, and my least favorite was probably the Grilled Piedmontese Ribeye with Blue Cheese Butter and Fried Walla Walla Onion Rings. Though the onions were beautifully fried (again, I know), the meat was a little dry for me. Even though the ribeye was doused in blue cheese butter, I felt like there wasn't enough fat or the cut was too dry to make for enough juiciness or easy chewing. I'm positive, however, that this was just a one in a million misfortune and I'm definitely going to try this again when I get the chance.

The Steak Frites with Marchand de Vin, and Hand Cut French Fries were killer. You already know that the fries are going to be amazing, but after trying that ribeye, I was a bit worried about how the rest of the meats would perform. Some traditionalists think that steak should never be pre-cut, but for me, I don't care, as long as it's good. This steak was good. Really good. It was a perfect medium-rare cut, and the outside of the steak was charred just enough to give it that delicious grill taste. The marchand de vin took on a delicious beef gravy flavor with a strong presence of onion. Dipping the fries in the marchand de vin was heaven. Dipping the steak in the marchand de vin was heaven. Dipping my hand in the marchand de vin was heaven.

The last thing I've had from Laurelhurst Market is the Niman Ranch Bavette Steak with Creamed Chanterelles. The steak was again cooked perfectly to medium rare with that nice outer char. The creamy chanterelles that sat on top of the steak oozed into each slice of meat. And if you know anything about me by now, it's that I love nearly anything with chanterelles. The light green onion garnish also added a light contrasting flavor to the creamy mushrooms and the heavy steak.

Overall, service was great, the interior was lively, and the bar scene was world class. I loved every part of both of my experiences there and I can't wait to go again soon.

Laurelhurst Market
3155 E Burnside St
Portland, OR 97214

GET: "Egg in a Hole" with Chanterelle Gravy; Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon, Anchovy and Piment d'Espelette; Steak Frites with Marchand de Vin, and Hand Cut French Fries; Niman Ranch Bavette Steak with Creamed Chanterelles.
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