Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sound Bites: Sqirl edition

Because there's not always time for a full meal…

1. The recipe I'm dying to make - Slow-Roasted Chicken via The Wednesday Chef. Any time a food writer uses words like "meltingly tender" and "OMG" and "best thing ever," I feel like serious things are happening and those serious things need to happen to me on a Sunday when I have nothing better to do than, well, slowly roast a chicken. Though, really, I'm not sure a better way to spend a Sunday actually exists. Outside of… yeah, no, I've got nothing.

2. My new motto - "I am what I am and that's enough." I read this quote from Drew Barrymore in People Magazine this morning and had a "Yes!" moment (not to be confused with the "aha moment") because it resonated so much in my world right now. And not at all because I had a tarot card reading last night (alcohol happens), and the tarot card reader person said something about needing to own my shrewdness or whatever. I don't actually really remember all the details (alcohol happens), but, the point is, I'm enough, guys. I'm enough! We're all enough! And everybody gets a puppy.

3. What I'm drinking - Apple Brandy. So remember like five seconds ago when I said alcohol happens? I realize I'm not a 50-year-old male, but this stuff is crazy and is exactly what you want to be drinking after you've eaten wagyu beef cheesesteaks on air bread and jicama-wrapped guacamole (the best EVER) and salty wrinkled potatoes (the best EVER EVER). It's kind of like motor oil except it's actually apple brandy and will make everything better.

4. What I'm listening to - Coldplay's "Magic." I realize I should be all into some indie weirdness that's played on public radio, but I like top 40 and the color pink and deodorant and Coldplay and this song.

5. Where I'm eating - Sqirl. I first met Jessica Koslow five years ago at a screening of Julie & Julia, which we both attended because, hi, we like food, and immediately thought she was the bee's knees. (See: We like food.) It turns out she is also super crazy talented at making the food too, and a year and a half ago, she opened an experimental storefront to sell her farmers market-inspired jams and brioche toast to locals passing through the East Hollywood neighborhood. Flash forward to now, when Sqirl is basically the only place I, and everyone else in LA, wants to be for breakfast, brunch, lunch or whatever meal that it makes sense to be eating a kokuho rose brown rice bowl with sorrel pesto, preserved lemon, lacto fermented hot sauce (!), radish, French sheep feta, and a poached egg on a stool on the sidewalk. It's so much more than enough, guys. It's the best EVER EVER EVER.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tartine's Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies: C(r)aving in

I ate eight.

Tartine's Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies
Barely adapted from Tartine Book No. 3 via Tasting Table
Yield: 2 dozen

Notes: I've never been particularly good with restraint around homemade cookies - particularly those of the chocolate variety. While I thought I was past the days where I'd dig through the cookie jar for the largest, most perfectly formed specimens and devour them without apology, this recipe rendered me utterly helpless. I've been trying to convince myself that it, the utter helplessness, can be attributed to the context in which the eight cookies were devoured (during the 48 hours leading up to another dessert-free Lent), but it would be remiss of me to not at least acknowledge that I'm a total liar. I would have eaten that many regardless of time or space or the curt reminder from a tightening waistband.

Make these.
Either as dictated below (the original recipe cut precisely in half and with 60% bittersweet chocolate as opposed to 70%), or as it stands in all its full salted bittersweet chocolatey rye glory.

8 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli 60%, but if you can find 70% Valrhona, have at it)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons whole-grain dark rye flour (sourced from my local Whole Foods - thank goodness for Bob's Red Mill)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
3/4 cup muscovado sugar (dark brown sugar will do in a pinch)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Maldon or flaky sea salt, for topping

Fill pot with 1-inch of water and bring to a simmer. Set a heat-safe bowl over the pot (checking to ensure the bottom isn't touching the water), and fill with the chocolate and butter. Melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring occasionally with a spatula, until it is completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside to let cool while you are prepping the other ingredients.

In a small bowl, whisk together the rye flour, baking powder, and fine salt.

Measure the sugar into another small bowl. Crack the room temperature eggs into the mixing bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with the whisk attachment. Begin whipping the eggs over medium-high speed, gradually adding the measured sugar until incorporated, then turn the speed up to high. Continue whipping the eggs until they have nearly tripled in volume (approximately 6 or so minutes).

Reduce the speed to low and carefully spoon in the melted chocolate and vanilla. Blend until integrated, then add the flour mixture, until just combined. Because of the high liquid to flour ratio, the dough will seem rather wet, but it will come together just fine once it's been chilled.  To that end, transfer the mixing bowl to the refrigerator and let refrigerate for approximately 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then remove the chilled dough from the fridge. Use a rounded tablespoon to scoop and shape small balls of dough. Place on the cookie shoot, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Top with a few flakes of salt, pressing it in slightly so it doesn't, you know, flake off.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until the cookies have puffed up (mine didn't get particularly puffy to be completely honest, but clearly this didn't deter me from, you know, eating eight). The top should supposedly also be rounded (as puffed things tend to be), and the bottom relatively smooth, but regardless of appearance, do let them cool a bit before attempting to transfer them from the cookie sheet to a wire rack. Once cooled completely on the rack, store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

How I Became the Quinoa Queen

I never intended for it to happen.

To be known as the "Quinoa Queen" - the girl who everyone associates with the super grain that's actually a seed. When I started documenting my every bite for the world to see, I didn't even know how to pronounce the word, and certainly didn't envision it becoming a core part of both my diet and my identity within the LA dining community.

It started as a survival strategy - a defense against the hazards of foodie-ism, a subject that Food GPS Founder Josh Lurie recently expounded upon in an exposition of the dark side of professional eating. The side that lurks behind those Instagrammed shots of housemade charcuterie, tonkotsu ramen and richly glazed donuts that are admired by envious eyes.

In his article, Josh pulls back the curtain, openly admitting what all of us who live and work within the dining industry secretly think and feel when we sit down to another seemingly bacon-inspired tasting menu or platter of buttermilk-brined fried chicken. In the moment, it's delicious. We lick the grease off our fingers, proudly capture the braised lamb neck pappardelle to share on social media, and go back for seconds without hesitation. The dictate to eat until you're 80% full has no place at our communal table.

Before I employed a blog (and long before I became a restaurant publicist), the whole concept of no-holds-barred eating was foreign to me. When I went to a restaurant, I ordered a single entree for myself, and would split an appetizer and/or dessert with my dining companions. It was a whole new world to me when I, as a blogger, began attending dinners with fellow food writers where the whole menu was up for grabs. My eyes would dance at the sight of the endless array of courses, and my fork would respond with equal enthusiasm until I'd reach a point of full that would make sleeping that evening an improbability.

As I'd lie in bed, arms wrapped round my swollen belly like protective gauze, I'd curse myself for taking seconds of the garganelli with sausage and finishing the entire butterscotch pot de creme sans assistance. The feeling would linger throughout the following day in what can only be described as a food hangover, an occurrence that would start to become increasingly common as I continued along a trajectory toward a career in the industry.

At a certain point, I knew that something had to give, and I wasn't inclined for it to be the waistband on my tightening skinny jeans, nor my health.

Rather than giving up the tricked-out restaurant meals I loved, however, I became more selective in the meals I attended, and when I wasn't eating out, committed myself to eating clean. I replaced the pastas and starchy foods I used to stock in my cupboards with quinoa, farro and whole grains, and found myself gravitating toward mostly vegetarian meals. Quinoa became a central part of my recovery plan - an easily digestible carbohydrate that would soothe my sore-ing stomach without rendering me hungry two hours later.

Admittedly, once I started to become known for my affection for quinoa, I played along with the joke, eating and talking about it more frequently until my survival tactic of eating and retreating transformed itself into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

An identity as the "Quinoa Queen."

Reading Josh's piece reminded me of the dichotomous struggle that we, as professionals who make our bread and butter from bread and butter, face on a daily basis. The challenge is to find a balance and achieve it - whether it's carb-free Mondays, a no-solo-boozing rule or an obsession with quinoa.

I'll let you know which one I choose.

Wild Rice & Quinoa Salad with Dried Fruit and Kale
Adapted from Russ Parsons/The Los Angeles Times
Serves 4

Notes: This salad is intended to be entirely wild rice, but I've recently become enamored with mixing wild rice with quinoa - for obvious reasons. I've made a few additional tweaks within the recipe in both technique and ingredient composition, including the use of pistachios in place of walnuts, dried cranberries rather than dried sour cranberries, and the use of baby kale in the stead of regular. With or without these tweaks, it's a delightful salad - the sort of thing that is craveable, yet wholesome - and, in my mind, the perfect antidote to the residual effects of a seemingly bacon-inspired tasting menu.

1/2 cup wild rice
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup golden raisins
Juice and zest of one orange
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
4 cups baby kale
Salt, ground pepper
1/3 cup pistachio pieces, toasted

Bring a salted pot of water to a boil. Add the wild rice and cook, uncovered, for 40-50 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process, and set aside.

In a medium pot, bring just shy of a cup of water to a boil. Add the quinoa, season with salt, and then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff the quinoa with a fork, and let stand for 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place dried cranberries and raisins in a small bowl. Cover with the orange juice (reserving 1 tablespoon for the dressing), and hot water as needed until the fruit is completely submerged. Let stand to soften until just ready to use. Drain, then using the same bowl, whisk together the remaining tablespoon of orange juice with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil to dress the salad.

Place minced shallots in another small bowl and cover with water. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before draining. (This will help temper the sharpness of the raw onion.)

In a large bowl, combine the wild rice, quinoa, soaked and drained dried fruit, shallot, orange zest, and dressing. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Sprinkle the kale with 1/4 teaspoon salt and drizzle with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Lightly massage with your hands, then toss with the wild rice-quinoa mixture. Serve immediately topped with the pistachios, or refrigerate until ready to use.