Dinner Party (near) Disaster

The quince were cooked tender and ready to be placed on top of dandelion greens and sprinkled with some gorgeous blue cheese and pistachios (from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook, “Plenty“). The little potatoes were bathed in duck fat collected from our last roast duck dinner, ready to be popped into the oven. And we’d carefully decanted a 1963 port, a gift from my father-in-law who was visiting for the weekend, to serve after dinner.

1963 was a good year for port!

And the ducks (they’d been so delicious a few weeks ago, perfectly pink inside with toasted brown skin we all fought over) were threaded onto the spit and set on the rotisserie so they’d be ready in just over an hour, giving us time to welcome our friends, chat a bit and eat our salad before tucking into the main course.

I’d set out some nuts and cheeses and my husband was whipping up a pre-party martini when I looked out the window to see smoke billowing out from the barbecue, rushing up the side of our house. We ran out and opened the grill hood, releasing flames that leaped fiercely about. The drip pans were blazing and the birds were aflame like marshmallows tended by bold kids at a campfire. I reached up, pulling away the grapevine that seemed to stretch toward the fire. My husband, smart man that he is, raced inside to get our trusty barbecue mitts (gift from my mother!).

Mitts to the rescue! Thank you, Carol!

He pulled the pans out and onto the ground (where are the beagles?!?) and, while the flames were still in full-fury, he yelled: “Go get two more ducks!” I raced back to Whole Foods, hoping they’d have some. It was 7:00, time for friends to arrive, and I was waiting for the butcher (if we can call the people behind the meat counter at WF “butchers”) who’d let me know if there were any more ducks in the back. My husband called to check in. “I’m waiting. If they don’t have any I can get these little Cornish game hens. They’d go well with orange sauce.” My mind was racing for a solution. If I got the little hens, should I wrap them in bacon? The butcher emerged with two ducks. Aaah. He hands them to me and I notice they feel a little…hard. “I think these are frozen. I need to cook them for friends who are coming to my house in about…six minutes ago. Do you have any others?” He assured me that they were just cold and, indeed, not frozen. I ran to check-out and got home as fast as I could.

One friend had arrived and caught me in crisis mode. (Damn!) I tried to appear calm as I unwrapped the birds to ready them, quickly, for the spit. The ducks were, indeed, frozen. I rinsed them under hot water but they remained so rock-hard that I couldn’t even pry the necks out of their icy cavities. We’d be eating at midnight if we tried to cook them. Now, our friends who’d traveled from the other side of town had arrived. Yikes! They suggested we order pizza. I considered it (it really would have been fine) as I also considered buying a couple of already roasted chickens. We popped open some Prosecco. What to do? We called the one friend who still hadn’t arrived and asked him to pick up two chickens for us to roast ourselves. We got them onto the rotisserie within minutes and all was in order. Aaah. Dinner was delightful (I was so happy to see our east-side friends!) and we finished up with a nice pear clafoutis. (We forgot to serve the lovely port.) We said our goodbyes and, while cleaning up, Henry and I raised a last glass, pleased as we were with ourselves for handling the crisis without burning down the house or picking up the phone to order in pizza.

The next morning we realized we had four ducks in the refrigerator. Two with blackened skin, two that were–now–perfectly thawed. We’ve been eating duck ever since; with left-over orange sauce the following night (with the beyond-amazing port at the end of the meal); last night, in summer rolls; and tonight in barley soup (made with duck stock, of course). Maybe banh mi tomorrow? And we made a gift of one roasted duck (along with some rendered fat) for our hero who delivered the chickens that saved the night!

Thank you, Mister Adams!

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Big Tip for Tuesday

VOTE!

And then drink Champagne when the right team wins. Cheers!

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Two-Tip Tuesday!

Tip Number One: For my dear readers who are facing the winter doldrums, cheer yourself up with a Provencal table cloth and a lavender-stuffed pillow from the Lavender Blue, Catherine Giraud’s online store. There are a zillion gorgeous patterns–from summery sunflowers to autumnal pomegranates–that will make your home a little bit happier. And for my friends out here in sunny LA, you’ve just got to visit her tiny bricks-and-mortar shop in Pacific Palisades! You have to know it’s there, tucked in as it is next to Maison Giraud, her husband’s popular French bistro. Lavender Blue is also chock-a-block with unusual French gifts, perfect for the upcoming holidays.

Cheerful!

Address: 1032 Swarthmore Avenue. Telephone number: 310-459-9423.

Tip Two: Make sure to plan your visit around a meal and stop in at Maison Giraud. His croissants are perhaps the best in town–super buttery and flaky. People also drive from afar for his duck confit and chocolate soufflés. Take a seat on the terrace.

Croissant.

A bientôt!

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Many Tip Tuesday

When you go to a good cooking class, you come out of it with more than a handful of recipes. In fact, that’s why I like to go to cooking classes, for the tips–the asides that are tossed out between the chopping and the frying.

This past weekend I attended a class taught by the fabulous Evan Kleiman of Angeli Caffe fame and of KCRW’s Good Food. It was part of the cooking classes put on by Anne Willan, founder of La Varenne cooking school in France, which has moved, in a new incarnation, to Santa Monica. I thought I’d share some of what I learned.

Do you know the “shaky bowl” method for peeling garlic? Check it out!

And the best way to mince it? Use a microplane! (Why didn’t I think of that??)

How about this innovative way of separating yolks from whites? Nuts, right?

No video for this one, but Evan taught us the quickest way to caramelize onions. Toss sliced onions in a pan with oil (or butter) and some water, cover and cook until the onions are soft. Cook a little more, uncovered, until the water is gone and the onions are deliciously browned.

A store selling all sorts of cool things is Cube, on La Brea. You can order goodies on the website. Great for the holidays.

Want to know everything there is to know about olive oils (and other stuff)? Go to Zingerman’s website and poke around for a good education. Great mail-order source, too.

If you can’t make it to the farmers market, you can still get your fresh produce thanks to The Farmers Market Fairy. Evan swears by her!

And a great tip from me to you: Check out other La Varenne cooking classes and website!

Here’s a little something Evan Kleiman taught us how to make:

Polenta “Aga Khan” with sautéed mushrooms, shaved truffle, a fried egg and gold flakes!

That’s it for today’s tips! See you next time!

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Between Seasons

What to cook when it’s hot outside but you’re desperately longing for rich, fall food? When it’s too early for stew and you’re not quite craving crumbles? Welcome to a mid-October dilemma in LA.

Friends were coming for dinner and I spent a good week trying to decide on a menu that made sense for the climate. Finally, I figured out a plan. I’d grill instead of braise, serve a toothsome side salad instead of a warm gratin and dessert would have the flavors of fall but in ice cream form. Here’s what we ate:

Fennel, orange, avocado and Dungeness crab salad to start (from the great Bi-Rite cookbook).

Fennel salad. (Terrible photo but it was so delicious!)

Then we roasted two lovely ducks on the rotisserie…

Crispy skin on this duck!

and served them with an orange sauce (pronounced in French, of course)…

I juiced the oranges with my grandmother’s old orange press.

and had a lentil salad, with bacon, dried cherries, a bit of blue cheese and spinach tossed in, on the side.

Lentils are notoriously hard to photograph!

For dessert, a maple-salted nut ice cream, from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams book seemed right.

Maple ice cream with salted pecans.

We started with a Sancerre (I can’t remember which!) then moved on to a Côte de Rhône from le Clos du Caillou. (Click on that because it’s a cool video about the wine made by a Napa company called Bounty Hunter Wine. Kind of fun and informative to watch. And there are many more videos on other wines.)

The day after our dinner, it rained (well, it drizzled a bit). I’m thrilled. I feel like our little party gave the new season a warm welcome! Here’s to a cool fall!

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Two-Tip Tuesday!

Hello again. Today’s tips are two quick recipes that are perfect for this time of year (at least in sunny California)!

Tip One: White bean salad. You can throw it together in no time. Here’s how: Toss a pint of cherry tomatoes (or more or less, as you like), some fresh (or dried) thyme leaves and a head’s worth of peeled garlic cloves with olive oil and a little salt. Roast at 300 degrees for about a half and hour, or until tomatoes are cooked and garlic cloves browned. Meanwhile, drain two cans of cannellini beans and chop some kalamata (or other) olives. Make a vinaigrette (I used sherry vinegar for this one) and toss with beans and olives. When tomatoes and garlic are done, toss them in, too. You can add some arugula or spinach for a main course salad or serve without as a side dish.

White bean salad with roasted cherry tomatoes.

(For friends on the chilly East Coast or in the faraway Netherlands, you can roast any vegetable, really, that’s in season. Try with broccoli or cauliflower. Beets could be good, too.)

Tip Two: Easiest weeknight family meal that everyone will love: Vietnamese Summer Rolls. Buy a packet of 10″ rice wrappers and anything you’d like to stuff into them. Some ideas: roast chicken, boiled shrimp, fried tofu and all sorts of vegetables: carrots, scallions, bell peppers, spinach, mint, cilantro, jicama, Armenian cucumbers, bean sprouts, anything! (You could even do sliced turkey or bacon and avocado, that sort of thing.) Slice everything up into slivers, then bring to the table.

A selection of vegetable and herbs for Summer Rolls.

Have a wide bowl of hot water on the table and take turns dipping the wrappers into it to soften them up. (It’s magical!) Just a few seconds in the bowl, then a few seconds to rest on the plate. Arrange the ingredients on top of the wrapper as you like, then wrap it all up like a burrito. Serve with Sriracha or make a peanut dip, like I did, or here’s a black bean garlic dip that sounds good.

Henry’s not-so-beautiful Summer Roll.

So much fun, so easy, and healthy!

Whatever they look like, they’re delicious!

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The Perfect Beach Food

Chilled watermelon, of course, is perfect beach food. And I’ve always liked the egg-salad sandwiches from my childhood. But yesterday a friend pulled something out of the cooler that was even more brilliant: a tin of kippers! He popped off the top (no need for a can opener) and enjoyed this overlooked delicacy as the waves broke and the sun shined. What exactly are kippers, you ask (as did I). Well, Minard told me, they are smoked herring filets packed in oil. He offered me a bite.

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Delicious! The taste brought back a memory of eating canned sardines on a little boat off Ibiza in the Mediterranean. (Which made me think of the just-caught sea urchins, crackers and cold Pescador wine that rounded out the meal.)

I’m hooked on kippers. They’re my new go-to food! And, of course, we know how healthy these little fish are (lots of Omega 3s!). You can find them at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s or even on Amazon. They’re often labeled “kipper snacks.” Isn’t that adorable? Amazon has a wide selection and even offers whole kippered herring that you can throw on the grill.

Kipper means to cure fish by splitting it open then salting and drying it in the open air or in smoke. Here’s a video of the process, if you’re really interested. Jewish delis offer fresh kippered salmon or whitefish, but I don’t recall seeing much kippered herring. Kippers (the herring sort) were big in England for centuries, then fell out of favor as they became known as a cheap war food. The Savoy Hotel, however, has kept them on its breakfast menu since the hotel opened in 1889. And now, from what I read in an article in The Guardian, they’re enjoying a comeback throughout London. Fergus Henderson, chef at St. John restaurant in London and author of The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating cookbook, is quoted in another article as saying: “There’s nothing finer, especially when washed down with a glass of Black Velvet.” (Black Velvet is a cocktail made by filling half a flute with Guinness then topping it off with Champagne.)

This new-found treat has made me think back to other tinned foods I’ve loved and forgotten about. I went through a happy phase of eating foie de morue (cod liver!) on toast at one point. And smoked oysters were also a thing for a while.

Kippers are great beach food, for sure, but now that I think of it, kipper snacks, cod liver on toast and tooth picked-smoked oysters could make for a nice apéritif! We’ll serve Black Velvets and maybe some Pescador wine. Will we see you in the garden?

 

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