This morning as we sat around the breakfast table and started discussing plans for our annual Halloween celebration the kids started asking me about the origins of Halloween. As a kid in high school I first learned about its origins that dated back centuries. I luckily was able to locate a great recounting of its history on History.com. It provides great insight on why it is celebrated and the many traditions of the holiday.
For fun items to make for Halloween check out our Halloween page.
It’s Sunday morning and I’m hankering for a good strong cup of coffee so I decide to go visit the new Intelligentsia in Old Town Pasadena. This is the first Intelligentsia east of the 5 freeway in the greater Los Angeles/hipster area. I’ve been to other high-end coffee shops before like LA Mill and understand the thought and mission behind these establishments. Provide the best in season coffee from small organic farms and brew in the best way possible to produce the perfect most flavorful cup of coffee.
When you enter Intelligentsia you are greeted with a simple printed menu with coffee and tea choices.
Behind the bar there are two espresso machines.
And a section for individually brewed cups of coffee.
Against the wall there are large stainless steel containers that look like they hold gallons of coffee but they actually hold filtered water and there are digital temperature displays at the top holding the water at the correct temperature for coffees and teas.
As I reviewed the menu and approached the barista I have to admit I was in a Starbucks frame of mind. Blurt out some crazy multi layered coffee order as quick as possible, give my name so they can write it on the cup, pay and run over to the pick up area. Instead I was greeted by a chill barista with a hey buddy calm down tone. I immediately got what this place was all about. Take your time because we’re going to take the right amount of time to produce the best cup of coffee. This isn’t a race but a true experience so take your time ordering and ask all the questions you like because we like talking about coffee then take a seat and chill out. We’ll serve your coffee when it’s truly ready to be served.
That being understood I ordered siphon brewed Kenya Thiriku, which was roasted on 8.11.10. They describe it as follows:
Effervescent acidity of marmalade and lime. Rhubarb, peach and blackberries with an underbelly of dark chocolate and fig bars. Hints of spiced rum in the finish.
When it was ready they called me up to the bar and informed me that if I needed sweeteners or dairy products to cloud the true flavor of this awesome coffee it was on the counter by the front of the store. They didn’t actually say that but I got that vibe. Hey buddy this is good coffee don’t mess it up by adding anything to it. Enjoy the pure flavor of these perfectly roasted beans that are brewed with the purest water at the optimal temperature.
So I sat down and happily drank my coffee sans milk and sugar with my croissant. It was a pure cup of good coffee that went down smoothly. It wasn’t too hot. It didn’t have a kick or bitter taste to it. It tasted just right. I can go into some frilly description but it just tasted right.
As I sat there I observed the other customers as they approached the barista. They too were searching for a menu board. They looked confused and apprehensive. One customer brought their coffee back to the counter and said that it was not hot enough and asked if it could be microwaved. I saw the barista’s eyes widen and they politely told the customer that there were no microwaves on the premises. Microwaving coffee is considered a cardinal sin in the coffee world and the good news is that another person in this world has learned this fact.
Is America ready for these types of coffee shops? The answer is yes. We’ve had good and now we’re ready for better. I feel like Will Ferrell in the movie Elf. Congratulations you’ve done it. World’s best coffee! Keep doing what you’re doing Intelligentsia.
About 12 years ago I went back to Peru to visit my family and to show off my new bride. Since you can’t go to Peru without visiting Cuzco and Machu Pichu we took the crazy plane ride from Lima to the city that is at around 12,000 feet above sea level. As you take off and the plane starts to climb into the sky you realize that you never level off the plane is continually going higher and higher into the sky. When you look out the plane’s windows you see high peaks on either side piercing through the high clouds.
When you arrive in Cuzco the hotel serves you coca tea and advises you to take it easy so you can get used to the altitude and lack of oxygen. Needless to say we crashed and slept most of the day. As we woke up to a darkened Cuzco we were starving and hit the streets looking for something to eat.
We came across a large Polleria (chicken joint). As we entered this cavernous picnic bench filled hall we saw in the center a huge brick fireplace with a rotisserie inside with at least 60-skewered chickens. As this rotisserie went round and round each chicken was licked by the huge wood burning fire below. The juices were running and dropping like rain onto the fire providing a great symphony of sizzle.
We ordered two chickens, which were served on top of French fries with a salad on the side and a squeeze bottle of the huacatay hot sauce. We sat there tearing pieces of meat with our fingers from this juicy and tasty chicken. With each bite we gave it a little hit of the hot sauce, took a bite from the salad, and chased it with some great soaked French fries. I
t was the perfect meal to start our visit in Cuzco. Juicy pollo a la brasa and here’s the recipe: http://www.simplefoodie.com/recipes/pollo_a_la_brasa.htm
I went to Chicago ten years ago to keep my wife company on a business trip. As she worked I toured the great neighborhood filled city of Chicago. While I was walking down one of the streets I passed a hot dog restaurant. I knew Chicago was famous for sausages just by watching old Saturday Night Live skits of the Da Bears where they ate brats and drank lots of beer so I decided to go in and get a hot dog.
It was no ordinary hot dog. In a poppy seed bun they put in a freshly grilled hot dog with a dill pickle spear on one side and tomato slices on the other side sprinkled with celery salt. In between they spread mustard and relish. It was topped with diced onions and sport peppers to give it a little kick.
I never saw a hot dog like this as I was used to the traditional boiled hot dog with ketchup and mustard. Pretty boring. Since I was walking around I took it to go and I got as far as a half block before I had to turn around and get another one. For the rest of the trip I had to go every day and get two Chicago hot dogs. Here’s the recipe: http://www.simplefoodie.com/recipes/chicago_style_hot_dog.htm
I’ve been waiting a long time for a new book from Anthony Bourdain and while sitting around during my daughter’s soccer practice and playing with the Ipad I came across a preview of Anthony’s Bourdain’s new book Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook.
So what’s with the title Medium Raw? Based on the listing of chapters and the 28 pages I was allowed to read Anthony Bourdain is always going to be raw. He’s always going to tell you how it is with double expletives. Now, medium can only mean he’s half way there in his new life.
Kitchen Confidential was our introduction to Tony and where he’s from that being the kitchen.
A Cook’s Tour covered the start of his new traveling life in search of the perfect meal.
And now Medium Raw is an update on his life and a recap on what has changed for the good and bad in the food scene.
What I was privileged to read so far was awesome. An amazing description on how his life had change from being strung out and slinging hash in a breakfast joint in New York to now being invited to a top secret gathering of the top Chefs in New York to feast on Ortolan. A tiny songbird considered to be the pinnacle of gastronomic delight by the French.
And his first interaction with Food Network Star Sandra Lee whom he has referred to in the past as the frightening hell spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker.
Anthony Bourdain truly writes in pictures. As you read his writing you feel like you are right next to him experiencing all the craziness in his life. I’m excited about this new book I’m just pissed that I have to wait till June 8th to get the full copy downloaded.
To get more information about this book click on the following link:
Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
It was Cinco de Mayo and having just arrived in New York we did want to stress on having to meet a reservation time. So based on what we read and heard we decided on the Spotted Pig, which is known as New York’s first Gastro pub. It is owned by April Bloomfield (Chef) and Ken Friedman and located in the Meat Packing District of New York.
As our cab started to enter the area one could hear a real loud crowd much like what one would experience at a stadium. We realized that we were passing the Bier Garden at the Standard Hotel, which is outdoors, and underneath what appears to be a freeway underpass. I could see the taps of the outdoor bar with hundreds of people around surprisingly celebrating Cinco de Mayo. More and more wasted twenty something’s roaming the streets with their sombreros and serapes. It always cracks me up to see people in the early stages of getting buzzed with lots of smiling faces.
With one turn our cab took us into a quiet and quaint little neighborhood away from the raucousness and there we spotted a spotted pig hanging over a door of a quaint tavern. And that’s what the Spotted Pig really is a quaint candlelit tavern in a building that dates back to 1836.
As we enter we were lucky to score the last table. The tables are tiny with small stools to sit on. The windows are filled with plants in old food tin cans.
It has charmingly rich colored cluttered walls filled with anything and everything that has to do with pigs. On one of the walls is a chalkboard with all the scribbled specials.
Its a simple place that you truly feel at home. There is no pretentiousness or attitude so one can truly enjoy a meal.
As we strained to read the menu against the candle on the table we were surprised to find simple dishes with some amazing ingredients.
We placed our order and shortly thereafter our small table was filled with the following dishes:
Grilled Octopus with Fennel & Pickled Onion
Thick cuts of octopus perfectly grilled and topped with the nice sweet crunch of sweet shaved fennel and followed by the always welcomed vinegary flavored pickled onion that helps to open up all the other flavors of a dish.
Sheep’s Ricotta Gnudi with Brown Butter & Sage
Gnudi is like gnocchi the Italian boiled potato dough. This turned out to be their most popular dish and it was no surprise. The sheep’s ricotta provides a deep rich flavor in a surprisingly light and airy package. Topped with brown butter and sage takes one over the top.
Soft Boiled Araucana Egg with Sardine and Ramp Soldiers
Now this dish I had to have. When I was younger we raised chickens. And being a suburban chicken farmer (6 chickens in all) one always did research on other chickens. The thought of getting colored eggs from a chicken always fascinated me. Unfortunately you had to order at least 36 chicks. So my dream was never realized. Now in front of me stood a softly poached Araurana egg surrounded by delicately toasted small slices of bread and a mixture of sardines and ramps. I delicately tapped the top of the egg to crack the shell and carefully removed the shell to see the glorious bright and rich yolk of the egg. I took a piece of the toasted bread and spread some of the sardine mixture and then dipped it in the egg yolk. It was spectacular. There is something great about dipping bread into egg yolks.
Now this time of year in New York ramps can be found on many menus in New York. Ramps are like green onions or scallions that grow wild on the east coast. Their flavor is like an onion. And champ is an Irish dish that is basically mashed potatoes. In this case milk or cream is warmed up and ramps are added with butter. The mixture is then poured over boiled potatoes and then mashed. More butter is then added. It is just the best comfort food.
To drink we had Spotted Pig Bitter which is a cask beer and defined as followed on the Spotted Pig’s website:
Cask-conditioned ale is the traditional beer of Britain. It is unfiltered and undergoes a secondary fermentation in the cask. When that fermentation is finished, the beer is left with a very light natural carbonation and a subtle depth of flavor. The yeasts, its job finished, drops to the bottom of the cask and leaves the beer clear. It is pulled up to the bar by a hand pump, just as it is in England’s Pubs. Cask ales are best enjoyed at a gently chilled cellar temperature. We hope you enjoy this handmade artisanal beer, brewed from the finest malt and hops.
The beer is smooth and mellow, which is great since it did not over power any of our selected dishes.
As our cab took us back through the craziness of the Meat Packing District the early buzzed happiness of the youth had now turned to serious contemplated looks of what had taken place that night. New York the city of millions of stories. As we drove off I kept on thinking on how I wished we had a place like this in Los Angeles. This would be a place I’d happily go to on a weekly basis. The dishes and the ambiance put us at ease and provided the stage for great simple food memories. I love a place that makes you feel at home. This will definitely be a place we’ll have to stop at each time we visit New York.
It’s 11:45 AM and we have a 12-noon reservation at Ko. We scramble out of our Midtown Manhattan hotel and jump into a cab.
How could I let this happen? This was one of the hardest reservations to get and I give myself only fifteen minutes to get there?
As usual we encounter crazy New York traffic crawling at 5 miles per hour with drivers tooting their horns. I kindly ask the driver, “Can you make it? “ He simply says, “I’ll do my best.”
The driver then turns into Nicholas Cage from Gone in 60 seconds and acted as if he was driving the 67 Fastback Mustang Eleanor. It was quite a ride. At one point we were helping to escort a siren blaring ambulance through traffic.
We arrive at the corner of 1st Avenue and 10th Street and jumped out of the taxi frantically looking for the restaurant. It’s hard to spot so we have to resort to looking for the address number on the storefronts. I spot a small lucky peach on a very small smartly decorated door.
We rush in and find a true hole in the wall. A plywood wall covered hole in the wall. I could not believe how small it was and as stated in other articles it was a bar that only seated twelve people. Ten lengthwise and two widthwise.
The location was actually the first of the Momofuku restaurants that housed the popular Noodle Bar. As the popularity of the restaurant grew of course they needed more space and moved it to a larger location.
As our eyes begin to wander around the room the host/waiter patiently asks, “Did you bring the print out?” I calmly go through my bag and produce what I consider to be Willy Wonka’s Golden ticket that confirms our reservation.
He escorts us to the first two seats at the bar and places in front of us a card that reads:
Lunch Menu $175
Lunch Pairing $95
The lunch pairing wasn’t just a wine pairing. It included wine, sake, and beer. If we didn’t want to do the pairing we could pick from a very extensive list from their bar menu.
Since we’re in New York and I didn’t have to drive we went with the pairing.
As we sat down we really started to look around the restaurant and started to really ponder the vibe of the restaurant and what they wanted to accomplish.
First, it’s all about the food. There’s nothing fancy about Ko everything is minimalistic. You’re sitting at a bar and staring at a kitchen and it’s the staff. And if you’re really into food you’re really going to enjoy it.
Second, cooks rule. When you read the Momofuku cookbook and the various articles about Ko you understand that David Chang felt like the cooks were getting the short end of the stick. As the cook’s slaved away in the kitchen they would make a menial salary while the wait staff in front would make a killing through tips. With Ko being so small and the cooks serving the food all the tips would go to them.
Third, the kitchen is not meant to produce massive quantities of food in short amounts of time. But is meant to be a stage for the awesome preparation, plating, and presentation of dishes.
Behind the bar I saw the following:
A large convection oven filled with dishes set to a 150 degrees.
Two commercial stoves with griddles, burners, and a grill.
The cookware of choice is All-Clad with some skillets that appear to be cast iron.
There are many clear plastic containers filled with ingredients strategically placed around the kitchen in refrigerated drawers under the bar counter in compartments overhead that the chefs used small knives to fit into the container crevices to pull down.
Everything is tight and efficient in this small kitchen,
There are three chefs working behind the counter with what appeared to be an apprentice chef in the back room that peaked his head out ever so often to get instructions. The chef’s would give empowering instructions and I’ll I could make out was: “Just make it taste good and keep it simple. Words to cook by…
The Chef working in front of us was Tyler Lyne from College Station, Texas. He asked us, “Do you have any allergies we should know about? We stated, “No.” He responded, “Great.”
Even the restroom or what they affectionally refer to, as the Office is also all about food. It was probably the coolest little restroom I’ve ever been in. They have a bookshelf filled with all the real cookbooks. Cookbooks written by the best chef’s in the world and of course I had to take a picture. It must be a great place to read.
Now I would love to give you a blow-by-blow recount of exactly what we ate with pictures and mouth-watering descriptions but honestly #1 they don’t allow picture taking which I applaud and #2 I really wanted to enjoy the food and be in the moment. I didn’t want to have a notepad next to me scribbling away about ingredients, taste, etc.. That would be insane since each dish was a fusion – yes I said it a fusion of ingredients. Lots of Asian ingredients combined with the best local ingredients. Each dish was meticulously and thoughtfully planned and prepared and one could tell hours of preparation were invested. To try to capture this would take numerous visits to Ko and on top of that the menu is always changing. What ever is fresh and of the best quality finds it’s way to Ko so there is no set menu. For our lunch they received a call the night before that there were fresh soft shell crab available. It ended up being deep fried tempura style in a bento box. It was awesome. In all we had over 16 dishes. I honestly lost count and the pairing didn’t help either as we had a new wine, beer, or sake with each dish which they generously poured.
Lunch took over 3 1/2 hours. The one dish I had to jot down on my Iphone in my stupor was their signature dish Shaved Foie Gras Lychee and Pine Nut Brittle. As we watched them prepare the dish an excitement started to build amongst the diners. We all stopped talking and starting to really concentrate on what the cooks were preparing and the questions began. What is that?
In a bowl they combined the following:
Canned Lychee – which has been drained and quartered.
Riesling Gelee – Combination of Riesling, gelatin sheets, and rice wine vinegar. They basically make a gelatin, allow it to set and then scrape it out so that appears like shattered glass.
Pine Nut Brittle – combination of caramelized sugar, glucose, and isomalt. Roasted pine nuts, unsalted butter, and kosher salt. Spread out on a parchment paper covered baking sheet and allowed to cool.
On top of this they shaved their personally prepared frozen foie gras. It is a decadent delight of rich buttery foie gras, sweet lychee, and crunchy pine nut brittle. With each spoonful the foie gras delicately melts into your mouth with gentle layers of sweetness and saltiness followed by the ever-important crunch.
To say that we got our money’s worth is an understatement. We had the freshest in season ingredients, prepared with extreme care and style, and plated in the most unique manner. The food is cutting edge and is truly American since it brings together all the best ingredients America has to offer.