Caviar Holiday Bookends (+If Eggs Were Clouds)

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For many, this holiday season has been blighted oddly by election malaise. Prior to Thanksgiving, the temperament of the masses had vacillated between surreally high or devastatingly low due to the tempestuous climate surrounding the race for president seen in particularly vicious battles between campaigners, the public, the parties and then eventually even our own families and friends. It has been a weird time to be an American and for some, to even consider what that still means within a contemporary context. So the idea of celebrating Thanksgiving came with a strange tone this year.

The Cute Gardener and I decided to bookend Thanksgiving with tiny food rituals that mean something to us so that we might celebrate, in the least, the things we are grateful for within our own relationship. Because despite what is happening in the rest of the world beyond the walls of our own home, we have it really good and don’t want to take that for granted. One of the things our love revolves greatly around is the intimate sharing and eating of food.

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For a year, a small bottle of luxurious caviar powder and a tiny jar of bottarga from our favorite Beverly Hills purveyor Petrossian, have resided in a kitchen cabinet, only to be brought out randomly yet judiciously for use as an expensive garnish on dishes we deem worthy. We decided to take those two beautiful ingredients to the living room coffee table this year to create our own finger foods that don’t quite fit into any of the three regular daily meals.

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Before Thanksgiving we knew we didn’t need a full dinner, as we’d be getting plenty of carbs the next day. So we filled a bowl with Terra Chips made of roasted root vegetables and had fun deciding whether the caviar or the bottarga went better with various chips atop a dollop of sour cream and sometimes a meaty flake of smoked salmon. Our verdict after many crunchy bites washed down with dry champagne? Yukon white potato chip with sour cream and bottarga!

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After Thanksgiving while enjoying a morning of college football on the couch, I re-imagined a dish we’ve tasted at Petrossian before that is called Egg Royale, or what I like to call “If Eggs Were Clouds.” I found a recipe online and was stunned by its simplicity.

My version as follows:

If Eggs Were Clouds
Serves 2
(a few perfect bites)

2 eggs
½ c. whipping cream
½ tbls. vodka
1 tbls. butter
salt and pepper
caviar powder

Freeze a small aluminum bowl and then in it, whip ¼ c. cream and the vodka till fluffy. Place in fridge.

Whisk together eggs and remaining ¼ c. cream and half a pinch of both salt and pepper until thoroughly blended. The longer whipped the better.

Take a heavy bottomed saucepan and heat on low. Place ½ tbls. butter in it and melt. Pour egg and cream mixture into it and then whisk constantly while still heating on low until soft, fluffy curds develop. When they start to develop, remove from heat and they will continue cooking. Put the remaining ½ tbls. butter into eggs and whip till melted.

Divide egg mixture between two cups, top with whipped cream and sprinkle with caviar powder.

 

 

Sometimes Cooking Is All About the Kitchen Sink

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When I was a teenager working at a frozen yogurt shop, a friend’s family opened a Mexican food counter across the street where I would buy my lunch. My favorite thing to order was the “kitchen sink” burrito. The concept was simple: the burrito would consist of any stray ingredients that were lying around at the time of my order, resulting in a massive flour tortilla bursting with surprise. Sometimes it would consist of beans, cheese, carne asada, lettuce and tomatoes. While other versions might be pork, fried chitlins, ranchero sauce, sour cream and black beans. It was a concept I enjoyed working into my later life as a cook – one that has also been popularized in shows such as Chopped where contestants are challenged to make food from whatever random assortment of items are found in a basket. In our kitchen at home, the Cute Gardener has become a master at this kind of meal, thinking up innovative fusions of creative cuisine toward the end of the week when our carefully planned meals from the beginning of the week have produced a fridge full of leftovers – odds and ends that inspire new dishes where randomness is key. The best part of this game lies in the way different cultures clash on the plate forging meals with no discernable origin; magically delicious combinations that would never exist in a recipe file or that might never be conjured from a regular chef’s strategic mind. To me, this element of discovery is one of the most satisfying things about being a home cook. Recently, the CG whipped up a shrimp stir fry that became an umami bomb in the mouth, something that we may never have the pleasure to eat again, composed of end of season tomatoes from the garden, stray vegetables in the produce bin, the remains of a bag of frozen shrimp and rarely used seasonings from the spice cabinet. We still don’t know what to call this part Vietnamese, part Indian, part Chinese, part Spanish taste explosion but it is worth noting for any brave readers who might want to attempt its recreation.

Kitchen Sink Shrimp

¼ pound split shrimp
¼ chopped onion
½ julienned turnip
3 cups sliced cauliflower
3 cups chopped yellow grape tomatoes
One bunch mizuna or other Asian green
1 egg
3 cups water
Olive oil
1 tbls. sage
2 tsp. Vietnamese crustacean seasoning salt
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1 tsp. dried Aleppo pepper
Salt and pepper
2 servings cooked jasmine rice

On high heat, saute chopped onion and julienned turnip in olive oil until soft. Add yellow tomatoes,  water,  sage, Vietnamese crustacean seasoning salt, cumin, granulated garlic, Aleppo pepper, fresh ground black pepper and salt. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until a cup of liquid remains. Uncover, increase heat to high and add cauliflower. When cauliflower is soft, add shrimp. Toss until shrimp turns orange. Turn off heat. Quickly stir in egg. Toss in mizuna with stems, chopped into 3-inch sections. Serve on jasmine rice.

 

Rebirth of the Palate at Kali

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It was two years ago this month that I lost my mother to a swift and sudden battle with a rare form of cancer. Since then, my activities on this food blog have been spotty at best. When one is enthralled in the grief that follows the loss of a loved one, time becomes veiled in a marshmallow fog moving at light speed one instant and slow as molasses the next. Then one morning you wake, clothed in the realization that life must go on. It occurs to me now that my lack of luster for celebrating food here has been intricately tied to the absence of my mother, who for many years was my blog’s biggest fan. Every time I would write an entry I would find her comments shining on my page as she reveled in the culinary adventures of the Cute Gardener and myself. She was so thrilled that I had found my perfect mate and that we were fellow foodies eating our way through a fantastic life together. Every time I wrote after her death, I would feel the gap in my life where her happiness for me had been so vividly present.

But the other night, the Cute Gardener and I dined at a splendid new restaurant in Los Angeles called Kali and my zest for presenting my palate on the page was rekindled. Fittingly, Kali is the Hindu goddess whose name means “She who is death” in Sanskrit. She sweeps into our lives to shake up our notions of time and with her appearance comes the inevitability of great change. She shakes our equilibrium and asks us to topple all that is static in our existence so that we can make way for the new. This luxurious and innovative meal ushered me back to the land of the living and reignited my desire to share my life in food again.

After a few years of watching the restaurant scene become embroiled in trends like charred Brussels sprouts, potted meats in Mason jars, kale, deviled eggs and pork belly everything, it was refreshing to find a chef doing creative things with bitter notes and unusual ingredients that veered more toward the kinds of food I like to eat. There was a discernable lack of overarching fat and a respectful nod toward the delightful and unordinary, making Kali my pick for best L.A. restaurant so far for 2016.

Some highlights included:

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A gorgeous, silken soup where wicked nightshade vegetables of eggplant, peppers and tomato were roasted to bursting then covered with tomato puree.

Soft and puffy mini rosemary infused loaves of bread accompanied by herbal whipped butter.

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A black barley “risotto” served al dente with tart black garlic and strands of wheatgrass; the nuttiness of the grains spiked by chips off the disk of nearly burnt, toasted taleggio cheese that topped its middle.

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A luscious hunk of black cod over fig and corn streusel.

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And my favorite of the night: cubes of gorgeously fried duck breast reminiscent of the texture of perfect pork belly with a surprising sauce of coffee, honey and cocoa, daubed with curls of purple carrots.

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For dessert, a creamy meringue ice cream was sprinkled with shaved frozen egg yolk tableside. Amazing!

It was the perfect meal to mark my entrance back into a lust for food writing, eating and recognizing that at the end of every cycle of death is a concurrent wave of rebirth.

 

 

Goat Cheese Puffs and Kir Royale

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We live in an age where convenience is king and attention spans have diminished to focus on a steady stream of 140-character sound bites and grab-and-go eats. Taking time to enjoy a meal or having a lengthy, real life conversation that extends beyond a thumbs up “like” on a Facebook post are going the way of the dinosaurs. A sit down meal, which used to mark a dinner with the family or close friends, is now a rare occasion involving copious amounts of preplanning and synchronization between the technologies and timeframes of various people all operating within distinctly individualized schedules. In an extreme backlash against all of this twenty-first century behavior, I am committed to make the moments that I eat actually mean something. And not something in the special way of birthdays or anniversary occasions, but special in the way that reminds me that life is in the ordinary hours. Life is right now.

The one time a week when I cook for the Cute Gardener and myself is a time when I can slow down for a moment and reflect on what I want to convey with my efforts. I am not merely making a meal or a dish but crafting an experience that bubbles up from someplace inside of me first, borne of a feeling, and then crafted outward. It is not about flipping through a list of recipes but rather culling from an internal well, something conjured that tantalizes all the senses, rather than just the tongue.

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Recently, I finished reading An Extravagant Hunger by my ex-Stanford writing class teacher Anne Zimmerman. The book was a biography of the famous food writer MFK Fisher and something that rang true throughout Fisher’s life was her absolute commitment to enjoying food and drink, even if eating solo or making a simple lunch at home. It also made me recall all the meals I had read Fisher describe in her books that were accompanied at the end by Crème de Cassis, the dark red liqueur made from black currants, which had always given me a tinge of romantic fantasy in the gut but which I had never yet tried. I researched and discovered an elegant drink, the Kir Royale, which is made from floating fine French Champagne atop a few tablespoons of the liqueur and decided to build an appetizer course around this drink; one that would equally fulfill my many deep hungers that had been percolating in my mind regarding the making and sharing of food.

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Dorie Greenspan’s goat cheese mini puffs were the perfect solution. Made from her exquisite choux dough recipe and accentuated with a whipped goat cheese filling, the resulting clouds of herb-spiked goodness added a light and airy bite between sips of the heavier, sweet cocktail. I served the drinks in fine stemless  flutes on our everyday, ordinary coffee table as we came together at the end of a regular old workday, shoving unread stacks of newspaper aside to partake in our ongoing obsession with Game of Thrones. The juxtaposition of classy bites with our regular scheduled television programming made our evening special, with nothing more to celebrate other than our lust for life and enjoying the present moment with each other—and that in this day and age is becoming ever so priceless.

Discovering My Inner Troll Through Oat-Laced Griddlecakes

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There are so many cookbooks in the world today, churned out every minute by our latest superstar chefs or directed by our palate’s latest obsessions for Paleo or gluten-free or raw or rustic French cuisines, so I tend to turn a blind eye to building my own collection because of the overwhelm. I am already behind in the few that I have. I’ve made under a dozen of the dishes in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table and the collected recipes from one of our favorite restaurants in L.A., Scarpetta (heartbreakingly-deceased) glowers intimidatingly from its place on our shelf adjacent to the Cute Gardener’s French Laundry bible. These are further accentuated by my slim volumes of Middle Eastern delights and tiny glimpses into the jewels of the Mediterranean and a random Thai or grain bowl assortment bought because the deal was just to good to pass up. But the truth is I am not a big cookbook kind of girl.

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But when Clint Marsh, co-editor (along with Karima Cammell) of The Troll Cookbook asked if I would like a review copy, I was pleasantly intrigued. A book not centered on the latest fashionable food trends or embedded with highly personal musings of an egocentric Michelin-man or woman? Yes, please. What I discovered after reading the book from cover-to-cover in one afternoon, hilariously enough, is that I just might have some troll within me.

Trolls get a bad rap in polite society. Yes, they may be strange in visual appearance ranging from the gnomish to the gigantic, and yes, they may eschew participation in the regular world, but it’s only because they burn up in casual daylight! They are highly feared and disregarded due to one particular delicacy of their diet. According to the book, trolls like many people are carnivores, although unlike our human predilection for pig, duck, cow, turkey or chicken, their tastes are geared toward us—the man and woman. WE pique their biggest cravings. So yes, I understand our aversion yet to judge would position me as a hypocrite because everyone knows there is not a pig belly I can refuse. So I will not, judge that is. Yet this is apparently what renders trolls scary in all the folklore and fairy tales that are delightfully peppered throughout the book amongst the conversion tables—what does a gnome-handful equate to in person form? Or a slip, drip, flicker or fist?

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On the lighter side, trolls sing to my heart with their gleeful foraging spirits that follow the seasons of the year to plan their menus full of locally available ingredients that can be found on forest floors, in musty, mushroom filled caves, and on many a mountain side or slab of tree bark. I found myself loving every recipe in this book and finding my taste buds teased by the idea of making some old fashioned griddlecakes this past weekend. The recipe is below—it turned out three days worth of breakfast plates overflowing with oat-nutty, tart buttermilk, salt of the earth goodness. Next on my agenda? The dog-eared pages for porridge fritters, quick bread, sourdough, limoncello, creamed winter greens, spring vegetable soup, sweet carrot soup, grilled figs and cheese, beets and eggs, eggs in oil with sumac, ricotta tart, jam bars and fig salami. And of course, the complex and unique Srikund (a strained yogurt with cardamom and saffron dessert) and Rumtopf (a rum pot combining a medley of alcohol, fruits and sugar made in a crock.)

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GRIDDLECAKES
(Word for word from The Troll Cookbook with * addendum notes of mine below.)

Greasy griddlecakes made from oats (or any rolled grain) are a favorite troll meal for breakfast or lunch. The trolls show off by flipping the griddlecakes without a spatula. (Which I was tragically unable to do.)

1-1/2 c. rolled oats (or any flattened grains)
2 c. buttermilk or whole milk
2 eggs
1 spoon vanilla extract
6 spoons of maple syrup
¼ c. melted butter or cooking oil (plus more for the pan)
½ spoon salt
An open handful of flour
¼ spoon of grated nutmeg
¼ spoon cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl, stir together all the ingredients in the order listed. Add more flour until the batter thickens to your liking but is still runny enough to pour easily. A thin batter will give you crispy griddlecakes, and a batter that’s too thick will make your griddlecakes doughy. Add berries if you’d like.

Melt some butter in a griddle over medium-low heat and splash on scoops of batter. Flip the griddlecakes just once and only after they are riddled with bubbles. The second side of a griddlecake cooks faster, but if it offers any resistance let it cook a little longer before lifting it off with a spatula. Serve your griddlecakes as you cook. If any of your fellow trolls like greasy griddlecakes, serve them the first few from the batch, as these will have soaked up more butter.

Cover griddlecakes with syrup, honey, chocolate, fruit, jam, yogurt, whipped cream, or anything you think tastes good. If you’d prefer a savory meal instead of a sweet one, make larger griddlecakes and roll them up with slices of meat and cheese.

*
I used oats bought in the bulk bin at Whole Foods.

“Spoon” means teaspoon in troll speak.

I used a cast iron pan rather than a grill so it was important to pour tiny rounds rather than a big flapjack disc in order to get the cakes to cook nicely. The first side took about five minutes to bubble and then 30 seconds on the second side.

Use as little flour as possible as to avoid damp cakes in the middle. These are very nice that way, dependent more on the taste of the buttermilk and oats.

I threw blueberries into the raw batter and it was awesome!

I topped mine with a mere drizzle of organic maple syrup, delicious.

Chez Panisse-Inspired Strawberry Salad

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My bucket list in life vacillates from year to year. Things like hot air ballooning fall off as I age and become more protective of my life. Things like “visit Ibiza” turn into “visit the South of France” as my tastes evolve from the love of nightlife to a more refined love of charming small towns and foreign flora. But one thing that has remained on my list for decades is Chez Panisse, the Berkeley, California restaurant owned and operated by sublimely seasonal chef Alice Waters. As far as chefs go, her style of cooking fresh, simple and delicious food from seasonally available, local sources has always matched my palate’s deepest hankerings for the good, the true and the natural.

A week ago, I was able to check Chez Panisse off my list when the Cute Gardener and I stopped in for lunch on a dappled sunny afternoon. Seated upstairs in the wooden, arts-and-crafts movement dining room, we enjoyed a taste of the famous roast chicken, a duck confit, fried green onions, smoky roasted tomato soup and a nectarine galette with the brownest, crispest crust I’ve had yet. But one small dish, a starter salad dressed in tomato vinaigrette was the biggest source of inspiration for me. It made me want to stretch my own capabilities from my normal salad dressing fare at home, which typically consists of an emulsion of shallots, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar and oil. It made me want to stretch my creativity.

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This morning our garden was full of growth so I decided to create something new with Waters’ philosophy in mind. I took what was fresh and available: avocado, purslane leaves, Asian greens, green grapes and strawberries. Then as the greens dried from a quick wash, I looked around in my pantry to see what might make an unusual dressing. A stray bit of goat cheese caught my eye and I decided to make a sweet summer dressing using the strawberries in a puree. To the puree of cheese and berry, I added lemon juice and olive oil and voila! I had a new vinaigrette, silky smooth and sweet with just a bit of tang.

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The unctuous creaminess of the dressing was calling out for avocado. And all that was missing was some texture so I added sunflower seed, whole grapes and chopped strawberries for variation on top of the greens. The purslane leaves, who many ignore as a mere garden weed, made for a beautiful garnish but also a nice dose of Omega 3s.

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As I ate my salad, it felt good to know that very little labor or resources had been drained in the making of this dish nor were there any pesky chemicals or genetic modifications to my fruits and veggies. Best of all, the ingredients had come from my own home—both backyard and pantry, in the spirit of grow your own.

Toast Trend Transformed

 

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It’s National Dairy Month and what doesn’t taste better with butter and cheese? Last week Finlandia sent me some Swiss cheese and butter to try, giving me the perfect opportunity to experiment with the latest toast craze—a ramped up fad I had been avoiding like the plague for an entire year. Don’t get me wrong, I am an old and ardent fan of butter and cinnamon sugar on crisp toasted wheat bread or hearty rye broiled with a slim layer of almond butter but I was hard pressed to start shelling out $5.00 a plate for some burnt bread and smashed avocado as it started to spread tsunami style on the menus of all my local restaurants. Avocado toast was quickly becoming this year’s poached egg or charred Brussels sprouts.

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Now, armed with a gorgeous block of salted butter, some sliced Swiss that tasted more sharply aged and less waxy then most grocery store brands, and a tree in the garden bursting with fresh avocados, the Cute Gardener and I were determined to create an elevated version of toast that I could sink my teeth into without wincingly becoming just another slave to the latest food trend. I would create a base toast that could be used either on its own for a quick snack, or fluffed up for a fancier role such as pre-dinner appetizer or a lunch meal all its own. I started with a hoagie-style roll of puffy, hearty sourdough sliced in half and swathed with butter.

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After the bread broiled for a minute or so in the toaster oven, just enough to crisp the edges for a textural crunch like the best garlic bread, we generously layered it with freshly cut avocado slices. After adding the Swiss on top, we stuck it back into the broiler until it melted into a nice even bed on the avocado.

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We had our base. It was noontime and all we needed was a simple lunch so we chopped up some chives from the backyard and threw them on top as well as an elementally important dusting of black pepper. Of course, we But as we ate the delicious toast we imagined all of the other things we could add on top to accentuate the gooey combination of goodness in the future: lump crab or tuna salad? Tomatoes and basil or strawberries and caraway?

I look forward to our continual transformation of toast.

 

 

Superhero Cereal

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Before we lived in this grand contemporary world where one can find a whole restaurant dedicated to the acai bowl, you had to have connections to people in the multilevel marketing world to access a taste of the superfood berry. I’ll always remember the nights in the early 2000s when I would head to my friend Stephen’s house before a night on the town or dinner plans out and we would share prized drinks out of his regal purple MonaVie container in the fridge. A couple we knew had become privileged distributors of the drink in America and they doled out cartons to Stephen and I to share as if we were co-owners of a child or a painting or some other highly valuable thing. We would pour the electrifying purple liquid into small shot glasses ice cold and feel something close to high with the buzz of its healthy goodness.

Now of course superfoods are everywhere, and in fact the word superfood may even already be a passé thing, kind of like probiotics and antioxidants. But acai is here to stay. No longer relegated to skeptical pyramid schemes, it can be easily found on the freezer shelf of every local grocer.

Until now, my acai lust has been centered on using the frozen, unsweetened packs of the berry slush as a smoothie additive. Not only does it provide the much needed slush element when I want to use fresh rather than frozen fruits and to my daily super shake, but the signature cool, mellow berry flavor provides a complementary and non-conflicting base to just about any ingredient. It also, unlike ice, doesn’t get watery.

But recently I have fallen for the acai bowl, which is like a smoothie cereal but more fun. The trick is to whirl the frozen acai with some kind of thickener like frozen banana, avocado or a favorite nut butter, which gives it some heft enough to sit in a bowl. Then the fun begins as you layer as many other ingredients as you want on the top. The combinations are endless and fun, promoting experimentation to find your favorite version. You also encounter some surprising taste delights. For example if you layer seeds, like sunflower or pepitas, atop your acai and then sprinkle honey over the seeds, they all stick together in a sort of sweet, chilled and chewy jerky that is ultra fun to eat.

My Latest Favorite Acai Bowl

1 pack frozen acai, unsweetened
1/2 frozen banana
1 tbls. almond butter
½ gala apple
½ c. frozen boysenberries

Blend all of this together for the base.

Top with:
1/8 c. sunflower seeds
1/8 c. pepitas
1 tbls. shredded, nonsweetened organic coconut
1 tbls. hemp hearts
1 tbls. chia seeds
½ c. sliced fresh strawberries
1-2 tsp. drizzled honey

My New Favorite BBQ Joint

 

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Mention the word BBQ to any red-blooded male and you are likely to open a Pandora’s Box of fervent verbal oaths on how to make the absolute best version of America’s beloved meat dish. And those opinions vary so vast and widely that “perfect” BBQ has been debated as far and wide as the lowbrow college football tailgate to a recent in-depth essay in the supposedly higher brow New Yorker called In Defense of the True ‘Cue. When I met the Cute Gardener, he was a confessed BBQ-aholic and had his own set of mandates on what kind of rub, smoke and meat were best suited to earn that hallowed title of “superior” on the good old palate of the USA. He preferred his seasoning dry rather than saucy, didn’t fancy all kinds of adornments, and eschewed many a restaurants’ claim to offering real BBQ if there was an absence of the honorable smoke ring between the charred edge of a cut of meat and its fleshier insides.

Our first four years together weaved together a chain of BBQ enlightenment. We found excellent down home pulled pork sandwiches on simple slices of white bread at a picnic bench strewn chain called Rudy’s in New Mexico. But a string of ensuing places in Los Angeles turned up nothing but bite after bite of failure. Trendy spots that offered real BBQ tri-tip and chicken and brisket were merely offering braised meats with soupy, oversweet or tangy sauces. The CG resorted to fantasizing about his earlier days in Kansas City and we agreed to basically eschew any sort of BBQ unless we’d someday in the future get down to those parts. Why deal with disappointment over and over again, he’d say, especially when one has truly tasted the best? There was only one problem, I had never tasted the best yet but who wanted to waste money trying in Southern California; we both agreed.

But one recent early evening in our own backyard inspiration hit and the CG pulled a rack of pork ribs out of the fridge that he had been marinating in a dry rub of his own for over a day. The simple yet deep rub of salt, pepper, paprika, garlic salt, onion salt, cayenne and cumin was further emphasized by a trip outdoors to the domed Weber where the meat was smoked atop coals mingling with bits of oak barrel and peach tree woods. The result was incredible juicy and tender BBQ ribs that oozed with flavor while boasting an immaculately pink smoke ring. I finally found my perfect BBQ joint after all.

Not Your Poor Man’s Bread Pudding

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Bread gets a bad rap in modern day culture, and rightly so. The plastic wrapped, pre-sliced loaves of bleached and processed bread that were introduced to grocery stores in the 1950s for the sake of housewifery convenience have bastardized one of our most glorious foods. In her book “The Art of Cooking”, famous food writer MFK Fisher disowned American bread as a travesty of a society given over to gimmick in the kitchen in lieu of the transcendental rites of baking from pure grain. Her memories of life in Switzerland and France are dotted with great crusty rolls of artisanal sourdough relegated to the halls of nostalgia in her late California existence where hideous products like Wonder Bread reigned.

Bread in my household is for the most part unseen. A few times a year we will venture to Diamond Bakery on La Brea in Los Angeles where an old Jewish lady has run the shabby counter baking fragrant oblongs of seedless rye for over 30 years. Or on visits to Continental Sausage in Glendale we may purchase a special loaf of hearty, German multigrain to swath with pebbled, dark mustard for our Weisswurst. But other than that we retain a sense of bread snobbery waiting patiently for those five star meals out when, while anticipating an amuse bouche at a fancy restaurant, we will devour masterful rolls of olive, pumpernickel, pretzel or fluffy white. The noted Italian restaurant Scarpetta in Beverly Hills, which sadly is closing its doors this month, had the best breadbasket with its hot pile of rustic Italian, focaccia, baby ciabattini and calzone-like Stromboli. But it is probably good that our bread forays are few and far between, or at least my thighs like to think so.

But last week I was yearning for bread after finding a decidedly upscale version of bread pudding in my daily food-related email newsletter stream. Bread pudding gets an even lower rap than loaves. Its conception came about in the 11th and 12th centuries when frugal cooks needed creative ways to stretch stale bread. In the 13th century, the dish became the ideal “poor man’s pudding,” popular with large, poor families. For years, as my boyfriend and I have watched the popular Food Network show “Chopped,” we have always snickered wickedly when the contestants during the dessert round “cheap out” by making bread pudding rather than some other illustrious cake or pastry. When I announced that I would be cooking a savory version for dinner on my one night a week to make a meal, I got a similar snicker from the Cute Gardener. Still I carried on and visited my local market for some voluptuous circles of French that I let go stale on my counter for the next 24 hours.

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This was no poor man’s bread pudding. It required a chunk of good Parmesan, expensive rounds of pancetta, quality olive oil, baby spinach, six whole eggs, zesty red pepper flakes and a jar of roasted red peppers. Once the whole mix was combined and placed lovingly into a large cast iron skillet, I realized I had indeed made an entrée that could easily feed a whole family.

When the bread pudding emerged from the oven, the house was imbued with a smell I can only describe as comfort. There is something magical that happens when cheese and butter bubble alongside the edges of a puffed loaf, studded with crispy meat. I understood why the dish could fortify a family low in the pocketbook with not only a bevy of nutrients but also an ambiance of security and belly contentedness, even if only fleeting. We scooped large wedges of the creamy, milky pudding onto plates and headed to the couch with glasses of red wine.

While proceeding to eat we watched one part of the documentary “Cooked,” starring my favorite food writer Michael Pollan. It is a four part series on food through the lens of the four elements: fire, water, air and earth. We just so happened to choose “Air” which was all about the magic of real, home-cooked bread. It touted a return to the kitchen to reclaim our lost traditions, like the creation of real, vitamin-rich breads in order to reconnect with the idea that cooking, at its origin, is about nourishing our selves and our souls.