Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Boeuf Bourguignon

You know those chain emails that people send out entitled “all about me”? You know – the ones that are much too long and for people who need a more challenging job? Well, I received one not too long ago, and the question was, “Spring or Fall”? My friend reply was very succinct. She said, “Fall – the clothes are better.”

The clothes are better in the fall. Hidden beneath thick, woolen sweaters, layered tops, and high heeled boots its much easier to look attractive than when you’re letting every spare, sunburned ounce of flesh hang out of a tank top and flimsy cotton skirt. Maybe it’s the dark colors that flatter most skin tones, or maybe it’s the cool winter air that causes flushed cheeks and pink noses. There’s just no contest – fall is the superior season.

I have just one problem with fall. It doesn’t seem to exist in Southern California.

Today is Halloween, and it’s a balmy 75 degrees. I don’t even flinch when I see people wearing linen in this kind of weather. If you didn’t own a calendar, by looking outside you’d have no idea that Labor Day was practically two months ago.

But weather be damned, I’m tired of salads and seared ahi. I wanted a hearty, flavorful meal, the kind I always dreamed my mother would someday learn to make. I wanted the kind of meal that I’ve seen people who are both blessed and cursed to live in cold climates eat on TV.

Boeuf Bourguignon
Only slightly adapted from Ina Garten

olive oil
6-8 ounces pancetta, diced
2 1/2 pounds beef chuck cut into 1-inch cubes
salt & pepper
1 pound carrots, sliced into 1-inch chunks
1 ½ yellow onions, sliced
2-3 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup brandy
1 (750-ml) bottle cabernet sauvignon
1 can beef broth
2 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pound frozen small whole onions
1 package mushrooms, sliced
½ package frozen peas
Crusty bread, like ciabatta
chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)


Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the diced pancetta and cook until the browned and the fat rendered. Remove to a large plate, but do not drain on a paper towel. Season the beef cubes with salt & pepper, or if you’re lazy like me, use a pre-made steak seasoning blend. Then sear the beef for a few minutes on all sides. You may need to do this in several batches, and be sure to add more olive oil if needed. As each batch browns, remove the seared beef to the plate with the pancetta.Toss the carrots and sliced onions in the pot and cook until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Now this is the scary part: add the brandy and then stand back. Light a match and carefully bring it to the pot, keeping your fingers as far away from the flame as possible. Keep the pot top nearby! Ignite the alcohol fumes to burn off the alcohol. (When I did this, the flames did not immediately flame out as I’ve seen on TV. It actually kept burning, and I had to put the flame out with the top.) Put the plate of meat back into the pot and follow with the entire bottle of wine and can of broth. Add the tomato paste and dried herbs. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, and place it in the oven for about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Combine the butter and flour with a fork and stir into the stew to thicken. Add the frozen onions. In a separate pan, sauté the mushrooms in olive oil until lightly browned, and then add to the stew. Bring the stew to a boil, add the frozen peas, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 25 minutes, or until the gravy is the thickness you like. Season to taste.

To serve, cut the bread into large chunks and then cover with stew and chopped parsley.

Leftovers Suggestion: spoon the stew into a baking dish and cover with mashed potatoes to make a fancy Shepard’s Pie. Just bake at 350 degrees until potatoes are browned and stew is hot and bubbly.

Friday, October 20, 2006

blonde quote of the day

"Blondes make the best victims. They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints."

- Alfred Hitchcock (1899 - 1980)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Restaurant Review: Beech Street Cafe

I've been to Beech Street twice in the past month. The first visit was while my grandparents were in town, and they wanted a restaurant close to church for an after-mass meal with their Los Angeles-based kin. I thought the menu was limited but adequate, and the food edible. It inspired neither cravings nor nausea and after that meal, I didn't think of it again.

When my sister suggested that I join her and her friend Erica at Beech Street for a meal prior to our weekly "Project Runway" viewing, I first declined. Beech Street serves Italian food (in the most Californian of styles) and eating melted cheese for dinner was not going to help me with my diet. But she badgered me into submission and the next thing I knew we were ordering baked goat cheese, a chopped vegetable salad and a large 1/2 cheese, 1/2 pepperoni pizza.

To share, of course. I'm on a diet.

We ordered a bottle of wine and teased Erica about the cost of text messaging her ex-boyfriend in Australia. The salad came at the same time as the appetizer, and we were barely done with either when the pizza arrived. The restaurant wasn't particularly busy, so I don't think they were trying to rush us; I think their timing was just off.

Its important to note that Beech Street is a sit-down restaurant, complete with cloth napkins and white tableclothes. Granted, this is Los Angeles so jeans, sweatshirts and other workout wear are almost guaranteed to make an appearance. Not long after we sat down, a couple who must have recently completed a very strenuous workout sat down at the table behind us. The woman's hair was dirty and pulled away from her face, and her partner was wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt. Bright, Charlie Brown yellow sweatshirt. In a restaurant. At night.

We didn't really notice them till the woman started to describe how she would like her dish prepared. It went something like this:

Woman: "I'd like it without extra garlic, please."
Waiter: "OK, no garlic."
Woman: "No, I know it comes with garlic in the dish. I just don't want extra garlic."

(She makes a hand gesture to suggest that the chef previously placed a side bowl of chopped fresh garlic on her plate.)

Waiter: "So, you do want garlic?"
Woman: "Just what already comes in it. I don't want extra garlic."

At this juncture, you might want to note that English is not this waiter's native language. He looks strangely at this wannabe Sally Albright and retreats to the kitchen to place the order. Of course, my sister and I motion with our eyes toward the woman to silently ask if we'd both heard the same exchange. We had.

My sister, Erica and I chomped on some breadsticks, giggled about boys and slurped our mediocre bottle of cabernet. The waiter was servicing the other tables when the Woman with Dirty Hair flagged him down again.

Woman: "Can we get some different bread please?"

(The waiter looks quizzically at the full bread basket on the table.)

Woman: "Do you have any soft, doughy bread?"

(The woman brings both of her hands up and begins to rub them together, as if she was kneading bread, taking one palm over the top of the other. She did this repeatedly as she spoke to the waiter.)

Waiter: "You want dough?"
Woman: "Soft, doughy bread. Like this --" (grabs piece of bread from basket) "But without the crust. More of the inside."
Waiter: "The inside?"
Woman: "Yes, doughy. Not this crusty stuff."

Again, my sister and I made eye contact and smiled. I know I should have been paying attention to the conversation going on at my table, but I was just too preoccupied with Dirty Hair Woman and Yellow Sweatshirt Man. She was leaning way over in her seat, henpecking the poor man as he stared mutely in her direction, and shoveling food off of his plate and into her mouth as if it were her own.

The waiter came out a few minutes later, plate in hand. He put it in front of Dirty Hair Woman and I couldn't help but watch in awe. She touched the doughy mass on the plate. "Its cold," she said. The waiter stood silently. "Is this cooked? Its...its dough!"

Yes, yes it was. It was uncooked pizza dough. Luckily the check had arrived and we were able to pay the bill and walk out before my sister and I erupted in laughter.

The lesson? If you want to get exactly what you want -- try Beech Street.

Beech Street Cafe and Pizzeria
863 Swarthmore Ave
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272

Monday, October 09, 2006

Iron Chef: Lake Arrowhead Edition

When making purchases of any kind, I divide items into two categories: Want vs. Need. For example: I want to get more exercise, but I need more sleep. Or perhaps: I want Steak Béarnaise for dinner, but I need that jadeite green balloon hem dress from Dame.

After a few weeks of desperately, feverishly wanting to quit my job and fighting the urge to actually do so, I needed a vacation.

We went to Lake Arrowhead, (because taking a speedboat to the supermarket is way more fun than driving) with plans to do little more than watch movies and lounge about.

Because my favorite leisure activity is eating, obviously food was a high priority. The original plan was to duel it out Iron Chef-style. However, common sense kicked in and we realized that as hungry as we were, we really couldn’t eat as much food as we thought we could. Appetizer vs. Entrée isn’t very exciting, but neither is obesity. Adapted from Ina Garten’s Salad with Warm Goat Cheese, this starter really is delicious, fast and super-easy.

Pan-Fried Goat Cheese and Roasted Vegetable Salad

1 large red onion, chopped into chunks
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 bell peppers, any color, chopped into chunks
2 yellow squash, chopped into chunks
2 teaspoon dried rosemary
4 oz. herbed goat cheese, sliced into ¾” pieces
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
mixed salad greens
olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the chopped vegetables in a gallon-sized re-sealable plastic bag and sprinkle with salt, pepper, dried rosemary and approximately ½ cup of olive oil. Close the bag and shake until covered. Empty the bag of vegetables onto a baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven until the edges are browned and the inside is tender, around 45 minutes.

After the vegetables have been roasting for about 35 minutes, start on the goat cheese. Take one slice of goat cheese, and drop it in the beaten egg, making sure it’s well-coated. Put the fresh bread crumbs in a plate and add salt and pepper to taste. Take the cheese slice from the egg and drop it in the bread crumbs. Repeat with all of the remaining cheese slices.

In a medium size non-stick pan, heat a teaspoon of butter and approximately a tablespoon of olive oil. Once the butter is melted and bubbling, add a cheese slice to the pan (it should sizzle). Add the remaining cheese slices, being careful not to crowd the pan. You may need to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your pan. Fry the cheese until golden brown, roughly 3 minutes on each side.

To assemble the salad, place the mixed greens on a plate and top with the roasted vegetables. Place the goat cheese on top and drizzle with a little lemon juice and olive oil, or your favorite vinaigrette. Add cracked black pepper to taste, and enjoy.