Saturday, June 29, 2013

Blueberry Cobbler Oatmeal: Breakfast champion

You don't need me to tell you how to make oatmeal.

It's not something that anyone with a moderate understanding of how to boil water can't undertake with minimal assistance from the four-step tutorial affixed to every canister of oats. Bring water to a boil. Add oats. Reduce heat. Stir in milk.

Then eat, likely begrudgingly, because it's oatmeal and not an ice cream sundae with a cherry on top.

Oatmeal isn't a breakfast that excites nor propels one from the sheets when the alarm clock sirens its wake up call. It's a necessary evil - a weekday breakfast of champions that we pat ourselves on the back for eating instead of the thickly frosted maple bacon donut we actually want. It's also deeply personal, its final state dependent on whether the preparer prefers it soupy like porridge or thick like the rubber cement* they have fond memories of consuming in Pre-K. And that's before even considering the question of whether to use all water, no water, skim milk, whole milk, soy milk, or even coconut milk.

And yet somehow oatmeal remains part of the conversation. A murmur, really, but nevertheless there - a consolation prize for health-conscious diners on nearly every breakfast and brunch menu, and a ritualistic pre-work meal that's eaten by many and discussed by few.

Because nobody Instagrams their bowl of oatmeal**; they Instagram the donut.

Except of course when that oatmeal becomes something significant. When it's not just the thing made with eyes half-closed and a hasty hand while the morning news hums in the background. When it's actually treated like a breakfast champion rather than a breakfast for people who want to feel like a champion.

I cobbled together this blueberry oatmeal this past Wednesday morning, not pausing to really consider how much I enjoyed it until I found myself making it again on Thursday morning. And Friday morning. And nearly this morning before I realized I was out of the key ingredient.

It's a summer oatmeal, the potentially suffocating heat of the oats and collapsing blueberries tempered by the cool, honey-sweetened yogurt dolloped on top. And while it's not something that anyone needs an instruction manual to compose, it was significant enough in my world this week that I feel compelled to share it here today.

Even if it looks absolutely nothing like the thickly frosted maple bacon donut you want in its stead.

**I Instagram my oatmeal.

Blueberry Cobbler Oatmeal

Serves 1

1/2 cup rolled oats
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup 2% milk
1/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, defrosted
Splash of vanilla
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon slivered almonds, toasted

In a small sauce pan, bring 3/4 cup water to a boil. Stir in the oats, salt and cinnamon, and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the oats start to fatten up and absorb the majority of the water, then add the milk. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible temperature and continue slowly simmering, stirring every couple minutes, until the milk is absorbed and the oatmeal takes on a thick, rubber cement-like* texture. If cooking slowly, this should take a good 20 minutes, though if you are inclined for a more soup-like porridge, the cooking time can be shortened significantly.

Once the desired texture has been achieved, add the blueberries and splash of vanilla, increasing the heat slightly so the blueberries warm through and the skins begin to collapse, seeping their juices into the oats.

While the oatmeal is in its finishing stages, stir the honey into the Greek yogurt.

Spoon the oatmeal into a bowl and tope with the yogurt and the toasted almonds.

Eat, not begrudgingly, because this as close as it gets to an ice cream sundae with a cherry on top at 8 a.m. in the morning.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

LudoBites: The Wonder Years

Foie Gras Croque Monsieur from LudoBites 2.0

He's been called "The King of the Pop-up."  A "Celebrity Chef." A "Culinary Rock Star."

He's been both a contestant and a judge on "Top Chef Masters," the impassioned star of the reality series "Ludo Bites America," and most recently the most vocal (and subtitled) of the mentors on ABC's prime time cooking competition, "The Taste."

But to us, the tight-knit dining community in Los Angeles who knew him in the beginning of it all, when he was searing scallops and frying foie gras croque monsieurs behind the counter of a bakery in the shadow of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, he's just Ludo.

The man before the food truck, before the TV series, before the titles.

This past week, LA Weekly's esteemed restaurant critic Besha Rodell reviewed Trois Mec, Ludo's newest venture, a collaboration with Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, the culinary duo behind Animal and Son of a Gun. Her prose sang of the "ridiculously delicious" potato pulp, the vegetables plated in "an exact dance of contrast and compliment," the backwards cream puff described as a "pure white fantasy," and of Chef Ludo Lefebvre and his command over it at all from his perch on the kitchen line.

Reading her words, the vivid brush strokes that painted an image of the intimate 24-seat dining room in my head, I was transported back to my first experiences of LudoBites four years ago this June, a time when many of us in the LA dining community were first discovering Ludo together.

Much has been said of Ludo's culinary influence in Los Angeles and in the nation as a whole. When the tattooed French chef originally brought his knives to Breadbar in the fall of 2007, he and his wife Krissy broke all the rules of what it meant to have a restaurant. Together, they invented the pop-up, creating an entirely new genre of culinary experience. Cutting-edge, avant-garde food that didn't give a fuck about white linen tablecloths or coat checks.

But that story's been told before. What hasn't been mentioned is the effect that Ludo and LudoBites had on us -- the writers, bloggers, and those in and adjacent to the restaurant industry in LA who were brought together through the roving pop-up and its guerrilla cuisine.

During those early versions, there wasn't a complex reservation system - be it a lottery or a ticketing system. It wasn't an easy reservation, but it was still conceivable to call a week before and worm your way into a five top at 8:30 p.m. on a Thursday night, which was precisely how I experienced LudoBites 2.0 for the first time on a balmy June evening in 2009. It was rowdy fun, even if I was, to say the least, unfamiliar and somewhat apprehensive with the concept, flavors and preparations.

As it would turn out, I would return a week later under entirely different circumstances -- for a private food blogger dinner where I was seated adjacent to two bloggers who I'd previously only known via the prose and pictures they posted to their sites. There was a general sense of euphoria at the table that night, perhaps because of the free-flowing wine, perhaps because of the energy from Ludo, or perhaps because of the shock-value of the dishes that dazzled our tongues and enlivened our senses in ways that many of us had never experienced before. At least not from a cube of watermelon.

Over the course of ten courses, each photographed more than a sequined starlet on the red carpet, friendships were forged. And four years later, those two bloggers, Sook from Yutjangsah and Cathy from Gastronomy Blog, are still two of my closest friends in Los Angeles. Sook and I later returned for LudoBites 3.0 at Royal/T together with Sarah from The Delicious Life, who I'd only previously met in passing and whom Sook had also met at LudoBites 2.0. Once again, after another rowdy evening spent divvying up foie gras donuts and escargot-topped hangar steak, Sarah became more than just the hyper-successful blogger I'd put up on a pedestal.

There are more examples here. Of a subsequent dinner I shared at LudoBites 4.0 with Esther from e*star LA, Caroline from Caroline on Crack and Lindsay from LAist where we ordered the entire menu; of the excitement that would envelop the dining community whenever a new run was announced; and of the deliriousness with which we'd devour the posts, articles and reviews about our Ludo. However fast his star rose, there was a sense that we were all in it together, forks fighting for our right to his foie, and for the immeasurable fun of it all. Packed around a communal table, dinner at LudoBites was always the best time -- assuredly so under the watchful eye of Krissy and the dramatic presence of Ludo, who always made the time to acknowledge us. To make us feel special. To make us feel relevant.

Even if that someone was a blonde-haired blogger from the OC with a very pink blog.

LudoBites helped shift the paradigm of our significance in LA's dining culture. Ludo and Krissy embraced us, heard our voices and didn't bristle at the sight of our DSLR cameras. They knew what we were only just discovering -- that we were all a community and that there was power in that communal table.

Remembering back to four years ago, to the girl who cringed at the sight of sweetbreads and balked when presented with steak tartare, I feel oddly nostalgic for those early days when we were all still figuring things out. When we were just excited to be there, lugging our cameras around at a time when it was still an anomaly to be carrying them into a restaurant at all. When we didn't know what was to come. And when Ludo was wholly ours.

The French chef with the tattoos who brought us together over foie gras croque monsieurs in a bakery in the shadow of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Kale Soba Bowl with Avocado Miso Dressing: Get the impulse

I've never met anyone who is as enthusiastic about grocery shopping as my dad.

Typically considered a chore done begrudgingly by husbands around the country, my dad is fully in his element when he's traversing the aisles of his favorite produce market, assessing the Swiss chard, sifting through the dried fruit section for his favorite variety of raisins, and tossing a head of cauliflower into his cart for no other reason than because of its appealing appearance.

His style of shopping can be described as the equivalent to ordering five entrees for two people at a restaurant. His eyes are perpetually bigger than his stomach, and growing up, it became a running joke in my family that Dad couldn't be trusted to return from the store with just one bag.

My brothers, mom and I would often play the game, "Guess How Many Bags" -- usually when we were stuck in the car waiting for my dad to return from his "quick stop" to get milk or batteries or something he deemed essential in that moment. Inevitably, he would walk up to the car with far more than just the milk.

"Oranges were on sale for 99 cents a pound," He'd boast as he'd lug two big over-stuffed bags of groceries into the trunk, one of them containing no less than ten of the discounted citrus fruit. 

To his credit, the oranges, or whatever he had impulsively purchased, would usually be of worthwhile quality -- just of a quantity that even a family of five couldn't consume within a reasonable period of time.

While I still shake my head at the seven different varieties of onions hibernating in my parents' produce bin when I'm in Orange County visiting, I'd be remiss to say that some of my dad's shopping habits haven't rubbed off on me. I too, am guilty of buying more kale than a recipe calls for, for getting three red onions when one is all I need for the week, and for tossing ingredients in my cart simply because they look good or are on sale.

A couple weeks ago, as I was traversing the aisles of my local Gelson's market, idling over the various iterations of soy sauce, my eyes fixated on a package of buckwheat soba noodles that were on sale. Though I had no immediate recipe in mind for them, and hadn't cooked with soba noodles in over a year, I found myself tossing two packages into my cart. Because as my dad will tell you, if one is good, two is better.

30 minutes later, as I shoved the noodles into my pantry next to four packages of quinoa, a giant tub of farro and an untouched box of whole wheat couscous, I felt less enthusiastic about my purchase. That is until I stumbled across a picture of this Kale Soba Bowl with Avocado Miso Dressing on Misty from Noms Not Bombs' Instagram feed.

Suddenly my impulse purchase didn't seem so… impulsive. It seemed fortuitous, destined to happen - unlike the pineapple I decided I couldn't leave Trader Joe's without two weekends ago.

So this weekend I bought more kale, avocados, and limes than I needed to make the recipe. And then I ate it for lunch both yesterday and today.

Because as it goes to reason, if once is good, twice is even better.

Kale Soba Bowl with Avocado Miso Dressing
Adapted from Noms Not Bombs and A House in the Hills
Serves 4

Notes: I made a few adjustments to this addictive salad that I have a feeling will become the recipe of the summer - the thing I gorge on until avocados go out of season or I finally run out of soba noodles. I added shelled edamame for some extra protein, used extra lime juice, used walnut oil instead of olive oil to add a touch of nuttiness to compliment the sesame seeds, and then used a touch of that walnut oil to massage the kale before adding it to the salad. While the first time I made the salad I omitted Misty's addition of cucumber, I enjoyed it mixed in the second time around - feel free to experiment as you see fit!  

1 small bunch dino kale
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 7/8 ounce package buckwheat soba noodles
1 cup shelled edamame
1 ripe, medium avocado
1 medium clove of garlic
2 tablespoons walnut oil, divided
3 tablespoons white miso
Juice of 1 small lime
Sesame seeds, to garnish

Wash and dry kale well. Sprinkle the kale with sea salt and 1 tablespoon of walnut oil. Use your hands to massage the oil and salt into the kale until softened, a minute or so. Stack the leaves on top of each other, and use a sharp knife to cut into 1/4 inch strips.

Meanwhile, bring a salted pot of water to boil. Add the soba noodles and cook according to package instructions, adding the shelled frozen edamame for the last five minutes. Drain and immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.

Combine avocado, garlic, remaining tablespoon of walnut oil, miso, and lime juice using a blender or handheld blender. Puree until smooth.

In a large bowl, combine the kale, edamame, noodles with the dressing. Toss to coat. Chill in the refrigerator, or serve immediately sprinkled with sesame seeds.