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Blue Plate Lunch has moved to a new location.  Please join me at www.blueplatelunch.net — I look forward to serving you there!

 

blueplatelunch

I’ve gotten back to blogging after a long a silence, so pardon me while I’ll catch up on some old posts I started but never finished.  I don’t have much of an excuse except to say that grad. school is a bear. I took up my time — occupied my mind — for much too long .  I’m ABD now, which stands for “all but dissertation”.

As I reclaim TABLE TALK and give it a portion of my time — the tender lovin’ care all good foods need — I call on George Eliot who said, “One can say everything best over a meal”.  So clear the plates, clean the table, and let’s set the places again — “toot sweet” (or tout de suite for those who insist on proper French). The next dinner service is about to begin.  I’m open all night and the kitchen doesn’t close until everyone is fed and feels of good cheer.

***

When the weather warms–Winter turns to Spring and Spring merges into Summer–my mind wanders as thoughts of  berry tarts and pies fill my head.  The baker in me can’t wait to take out her rolling pin, make some pie dough,  and fill it with fruit.  I was inspired to make a strawberry tart when received an impromptu invitation to a casual dinner party.

There’s something universally appealing about strawberries.  They’re the berry most everybody likes.  But for the record, I’m most partial to blackberries. They are flexible berries that play well with other of their kind, yet the mix well with stone fruits, apples, and pears.  I can talk all day about the wonder that is the blackberry, but I’ll save that for another post.  Back to the oh so berry red strawberry….   They also make quick work in tarts, as they’re usually macerated with sugar and put on top of a pre-baked pie shell.   Such was my  sweet pastry tart shell recipe, or pâte sucrée, if one’s wants to get fancy with French.  Then I whipped up some sweeten mascarpone, dumped and spread over the pastry crusty, and pour the strawberries in a gloss red mound.

I few week later, I got my peach pie on for the 4th of July (2009). Nothing says summer more to me that a warm slice of peach pie with good vanilla ice cream. It’s a classic pairing as perfect as milk n’ cookies.

A. let me borrow a few Irish cookbooks, so I decided to explore my (imagined) inner Irish – or just a little Irish cooking – over spring break.  I made some Irish stew and soda bread for dinner one night. I figured it was a classic combination that would make a good introduction to Irish food.  

Does this look gray?

Does this look gray?

Irish stew is made with lamb, but the cut of lamb the recipe required is one not readily available on this side of the pond – or at least in the grocery stores where I shop.  In addition, the cookbooks were published in Ireland, so along with trying to find “giggot” lamb chops, I was also converting some metric measurements to pounds and cups.  The stew turned out okay, I think, although I had nothing to judge it against as I hadn’t had proper Irish stew before. Later A. asked me if it looked gray, which was reassuring because once I thought about it, it sort of did.  Although at the time, I though it an “interesting” color, paler than any stew I’ve ever made.  It also tasted about how it looked with flavor as about as strong its color, which wasn’t much.  I’m not say it was bad or tasteless, but for someone who was brought up eating hot, sour, and spicy foods, those things it was not – obviously. Instead, the dish was about simple seasonings – salt, pepper, and some fresh herbs. I used three times as much flat-leaf parsley, hence all the green flecks clinging to the carrots, potatoes, and lamb.

Next time I need to mark the cross deeper so it shows.

Next time I need to mark the cross deeper so it shows.

I enjoyed the soda bread more.  There’s just something about fresh baked bread of any sort.  It’s good in a soul satisfying way.  It’s a simple pleasure – bread warm from the oven slathered with quality butter – that speaks of hearth and home.  Soda bread is quick and easy to make, so I’ll be make more of it in the future.  Maybe I’ll have it with my next bowl of homemade soup – a classic combination in my book.

These two recipe came from the Avoca Café Cookbook if you’re interested to looking for them.

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Sometimes you just gotta get away, even if it’s just for a day.  

School is starting up for me again on Monday and don’t feel I’ve had any sort of break this one week in between quarters.  I needed to take desperate measures to think I’ve had some sort of vacation before I go back to the daily grind of student life.  (Yes, I’m suffering from a bit of burnout.  <Sigh.>)  So, I cleared one day out of the week–made no appointments and ran no errands–for a day trip, get away, desperate momentary break way from my regular life.  

Santa Barbara is just close enough to Los Angeles that you can do that–hop in your car and escape for a day.  It’s a nice drive up the coast on the 101, especially when the traffic is cooperating, as it was for me on Thursday.  I didn’t make any plans for when I was there, save one thing–go to La Super Rica for tacos. G. clued me into this local taco “joint” beloved by many, including many of her friends here in LA.  

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Those who know me, know I have limited experience with Mexican food of any kind.  I often say as a bit of a joke, but it’s also true, that I didn’t know tacos were soft ’til I came to LA.  So if I was to be honest, I would have to say my Mexican palate is really underdeveloped; although I enjoy Mexican dishes, my taste run very mainstream.  My excuse is that I grew up in Maryland and for the longest time the only Mexican restaurant around was Plata Grande. (I don’t think they’re around anymore.)  While my family went there a fair amount and I liked it as a child, I would hardly call it authentic.  My LA friends have tried to educate me–reform my palate–but don’t think I’m progressing as much as they would like.  My favorite Mexican meal is still enchiladas, ‘though I’m becoming fond of burritos, especially the scallop burrito at Señor Fish.  I enjoy tacos, but I don’t seek them out like so many who are true lovers of the (Mexican food) form.  

But I like to think I know a taco of quality and good taste when see one, and La Super Rica tacos were might fine.  Whether they are “the best” as so many claim, I can’t say ’cause this is only maybe the third taco stand I’ve been to in my life.  But if I were to make a future trip to Santa Barbara, I would think of stopping by there again.  Everything was wonderfully fresh and tasted homemade.  

Biting into a warm, handmade tortilla grilled moments before is even something I can appreciate and savor. The tenderness in the corn meal that only hands steeped in tradition can impart are techniques not taught in cookbooks, but passed from one generation of (home) cook to the next.  It makes all the difference in the world and explains why tacos are soft.

 

La Super Rica

622 N. Milpas St, Santa Barbara

Phone: (805) 963-494o

Hours: Mon-Sun 11am-9pm, Wed Close

dsc00367There’s just sometime about cooking dinner for others that melts away my stresses in life (for a moment) like few other activities can do.  It’s the quiet work in the kitchen that culminates with warmth and good cheer around a table with friends that does wonders to smooth out the frazzled nerves and unsettled soul.  I don’t do it often enough with my school schedule, but when I do, I realize my life could probably be in better balance if I did.  

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My first weekend of a short break, I stepped into the kitchen, fired up the stove and turned on the oven to make a pasta dish and fruit crumble to bring over to friends on the Westside for a long, leisurely Sat. supper. Also on the menu were a simple arugula salad and melon and prosciutto for an appetizer, but it was the talk around the table that completed the meal with a nice bottle of French Burgundy that sealed the deal.

Four days in Denver

Since returning to graduate school, I find myself traveling more frequently, but to cities where I never really get beyond the dsc003231hotel I stay.  My trip to Denver, sadly, was no exception.  I spent four days at the Grand Hyatt and hardly got out its doors, ‘though there was some consolation that the Grand Hyatt is nice—the nicest hotel I’ve been for a conference, actually  My room was spacious, the service was consistently friendly, and the food was actually pretty good.  For my first dinner on the first night, the fish wasn’t over cooked and the chicken wasn’t dry, which I find are the two prevailing weaknesses in hotel dinning.  And most of my meals were taken on the top floor of the hotel, so there were some nice views, both day and night, to accompany the food.  I took some pictures, but they don’t do justice to the Rocky Mountains in the distance.

dsc00338I never made it inside the Denver Art Museum as I had hoped, but I did stand around it after attending an event at the Denver Public Library and took a few pictures of its facade.  It’s a striking museum and I would have liked to seen its inside, too.

My last day, I paused to have lunch with G. in the hotel restaurant, or the 1876 Restaurant as it’s called, before dashing off to catch an early afternoon flight back to Los Angeles.  The restaurant had a “Quick Fire Lunch” where you could choice one item from three lists, which were roughly an appetizer, some sort of soup or salad, and a type of sandwich, plus a little desert thrown in for good measure.  It was basically an American take on the Japanese Bento (Box) Lunch and for thirteen dollars, I couldn’t resist.  I also wondered if they got the name and idea from Top Chef–the Quick Fire Challenge–or was it on the menu before the TV show.  Although I thought of the connection then, I didn’t care enough to ask our server.  Instead, G. and I were engaged in a pretty intense conversation pertaining to my studies and her work, which are related.  G. lives in Chicago, so I rarely see her; and when I do it’s at conferences where she busier than me.  I was glad to have some personal time with her and having a fun, snack-y lunch was more of a bonus.

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(top left) potato and mushroom soup, (top right) peanut butter mousse tart, (bottom left) duck quesadilla, (bottom right) reuben

The sky glowed for a moment about the Denver Art Museum

The sky glowed for a moment above the Denver Art Museum

Steamed dumpling

sweet, warm comfort on a plate

sweet, warm comfort on a plate

Steamed deserts, or “pudding” as people on the other side of the pond say, aren’t something I do, but I became intrigued by them after a discussion with A.  Puddings were a bit of a tradition for her growing up; and she was kind enough to passed along a couple family recipes that I worked into some of my special meals over the past couple weeks with my own variations of fruit fillings.

For Christmas dinner, it was blackberries and apples with a dash of cinnamon and a generous tablespoon of sugar.  Then I tried fresh cranberries and apples with a little cinnamon and heaping tablespoons of orange marmalade and sugar to sweeten the mix for a nice dinner early in the new year.

apple and cranberry dumpling fresh from its water bath, all lumpy and wrinkled

apple and cranberry dumpling fresh from its water bath, all lumpy, bumpy

I like what steaming does to a typical pastry crust.  It lightens it and sort of fluffs it up, making it wonderfully tender.  The dumpling is more delicate than if one were to bake it in the oven as a rustic pie or turnover.  It’s also a dessert you can have cooking in the background as you eat dinner, since it takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours to steam.  Then it’s ready for the dramatic turning out on the plate when you’re finished with the main course; and presenting it all warm and cozy at the table makes a lovely  final flourish to your meal, as well.

apple and cranberry dumpling turned out on a plate

apple and cranberry dumpling turned out on a plate

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