Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Driving for Empanadas: Chile vs. Argentina

Long before the euphemism "hiking the Appalachian trail" was associated with a certain South American country, Argentina was known for Evita, tango and empanadas.

I drove to Tito's Market in El Monte last Friday to pick up a dozen empanadas for a potluck happy hour. At $1.39 each, the hearty beef pies are a tasty, inexpensive and lazy way to feed a group.

On Saturday, I was invited to another potluck dinner (is this a sign of the times?). Still more in the mood to drive than bake, I headed to my old haunt, Rincon Chileno in Hollywood, for a Chilean version of the meat pie. They sell for $2.25 each, but are about 50% larger that the ones at Tito's. (And if you purchase six, the seventh one is free.)

Chilean empanadas from Rincon Chileno, Argentine empanadas from Tito's

Then I headed back down to El Monte for a half dozen Argentinian empanadas so that I could compare the two.

For me it was no contest. I love Tito's, BUT I prefer the flaky golden crust of the Rincon Chileno pies. I also prefer the beef filling, which is fried with onions and surrounded by boiled egg and olives. Tito's omits the onions and the eggs and limits the olives to one per pie.

Chilean empanadas from Rincon Chileno, Argentine empanadas from Tito's

I thought that the Rincon Chileno empanadas would be scooped up while the Tito's pies went begging. But guess what? They were both scooped up (another sign of the times?), and many of the potluckers told me they preferred Tito's.

You'll have to be the judge.

Rincon Chileno
4354 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 666-6075.

Tito's Market
9814 Garvey Ave.
El Monte CA
(626) 579-1893

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Swap 'Til You Drop

Do you think the squirrels will come back later to finish these half-eaten apricots?

It's that time of year again when my back lawn becomes littered with the carcasses of half-eaten apricots. The squirrels are experts at picking the freshest fruits, taking a few nibbles and then throwing the partially eaten apricots on the ground. (Except for the Oscar Madison squirrel, who lined up his fruits on a limb.)

Last year I joined a community crop sharing group, so I have lots of help in picking and eating the fruit. (If you'd like to read more about the group, see the story I wrote for the LA Times Home & Garden Section.) In a nutshell, we share and swap our surplus produce with other members in the group.

In an effort to distract the squirrels from the apricots, I put up a bird feeder. Unfortunately, the word has gotten out that the Carriers are hosting a back-yard smorgasbord.

I feel lucky to have a yard with plenty of fruit trees (apricot, pomello, lemon, orange, grapefruit, avocado, persimmon, fig) and enough room for a vegetable plot.

For those not fortunate enough to have their own piece of dirt, the good news is that LA County has more than 4,000 community garden plots. The bad news is that hundreds of wannabe gardeners are on the waiting lists.

One creative solution that's being explored in Southern California is yard swapping or share cropping, where landowners share their plot of land and part of the harvest in exchange for a little sweat equity. (You can read my LA Times story about modern day share cropping here.)

How green is my garden? The peas just sprouted and the green zebra tomatoes are almost ripe.

The fruits of someone else's labor: donut peaches and Swiss chard in exchange for apricots

Do you live in Los Angeles and want to explore a yard sharing arrangement? Check out www.growfriend.org.

If you aren't in LA, check out www.hyperlocavore.com, a national group that's facilitating yard sharing arrangements.

After all, in these recessionary times, swapping is better than shopping.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Pizzeria Mozza - Late to the Pizza Party

Photo courtesy of men.style.com

It's not that I object to the word "foodie," but I don't like to call myself one.

And here's why. Real foodies have been worshipping at the twin altars of Mozza Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza (the Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali, Joseph Bastianich restaurants) since they opened in November 2006.

I, on the other hand, ate at Pizzeria Mozza for the first time on Tuesday.

Here are a few of my observations:

- I was surprised at the number of young children at both restaurants. The parents of a six-year-old boy told me that their son's birthday dinner request was Mozza Osteria. He's a huge Mario Batali fan. When the waiter asked him if he wanted penne pasta with butter, he responded, "No, I'd like the lamb chops, medium rare." Instead of the Chuck E. Cheese motto, "Where a kid can be a kid," the slogan could be, "Where a kid can be a snob."

- I tried the bone marrow appetizer, and I don't get it. But I don't get pork belly either. Maybe it's because I was forced to eat fat as a child; I got in "trouble" when I carefully cut the fat off my pork chops. My dad (the one who chastised me) would no doubt suck the fat right out of those marrow bones (as one man at our table did). But he'd scoff at the price.

- They had a ramps (wild leek) pizza! I just wrote about ramps, so I was delighted to sample this hillbilly delicacy on my pizza. Now this I get, even though the taste was milder and less pungent than the ramps of my childhood in West Virginia. The ramps pizza, only available until the end of June, is also topped with pancetta, English peas and panna for $18. I MUST return before the end of the month.

- My other new favorite thing is the pizza with fried egg and asparagus. I could eat this every day.

- You won't find any pizza crust graveyards - those embarrassing piles of uneaten, inedible, doughy crust edges. Mozza's rims of charred bubbles are crisp and chewy and entirely edible. If I saw an uneaten one on someone's plate, I might even mutter, "You gonna' eat that?"

- Our group of seven had reservations, but it would have been fairly easy for a group of four to grab seats at the bar after a 15-minute wait. And, by the way, if you're going with a group, six is a perfect number because that's how many slices per pizza. We were a little relieved that the seventh person in our group was a no-show.

- It only took 25 minutes to drive from Altadena to Melrose in rush-hour traffic. It's taken me longer to drive to Alhambra for a banh mi.

- A foodie photographer in our group took flash photos of all 11 dishes, and it was very annoying. That's why I don't have any photos with this post and why I seldom write about restaurants. Please rip the camera from my hands if I ever annoy you with picture taking. Or, being the sensitive type, your disapproving look would wilt me faster than wild ramps on a hot skillet.

- The place is small - so small that there's nowhere to stand while you're waiting for your table. Don't you hate that? No matter where you go, you're in someone's way.

- I've read Yelp complaints about poor service, but our wait staff couldn't have been nicer or more attentive.

Pizzeria Mozza
641 N. Highland Ave.
Los Angeles, CA

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Torn Between Two Blogs and a Treat from Celebrating with Julienne

Graham Cracker Chewy Bars - A Julienne Favorite

I once lived in an apartment in Hollywood, next door to an amorous Chilean woman who had two lovers. One, apparently, knew about the other, and one thought he was the one and only. I know this because I frequently provided an escape route to "the other" through our adjoining balconies. (My neighbor thanked me by introducing me to Rincon Chileno, a Chilean restaurant on the seedy side of Melrose.)

I've never experienced this dilemma in life, but sometimes I feel that way with my two blogs. "Two blogs?" some may gasp. You may have thought Open Mouth, Insert Fork was the "one and only." Readers of my other blog, Cancer Banter, are well aware of my food blog. Heck, I even invite them to "sneak over the balcony" and visit Open Mouth, Insert Fork.

Up until now, there really wasn't any reason for me to tell you about Cancer Banter. But now I'm ready to share because I feel like I'm experiencing the ultimate convergence between the two blogs (a chance meeting in the hallway?).

Susan Campoy, owner of Julienne and author of Celebrating with Julienne, died of cancer in May, and I wrote a tribute to her at Cancer Banter. We shared more than a love of food; we also shared the same doctor at the same cancer center, City of Hope.

I have an appointment at the City of Hope this afternoon, and since I am feeling so good, I decided to make Julienne's Graham Cracker Chewy Bars to share with my doctor and staff.

Raising the bar

This recipe recently appeared in the LA Times Food Section's "Culinary SOS," where readers request their favorite recipes. The recipe, along with a brief story about its origin, also appears in the Celebrating with Julienne cookbook. (There's not a photo of the bars in the book, so it's nice to see the pic with the LA Times article.)

Graham Cracker Chewy Bars

Total time: 45 minutes, plus cooling time

Servings: 24 bars


3 cups graham cracker crumbs

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and flour until moist and well-blended. Press the mixture firmly and evenly over the bottom of a 13-inch by 9-inch baking pan. Bake until the crust is golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Topping and assembly

2 1/2 cups brown sugar

4 extra-large eggs

2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup pecans, chopped

1 prepared crust

Powdered sugar, if desired

1. While the crust is baking, in a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and eggs to blend. Whisk in the graham cracker crumbs, vanilla, salt and baking powder until well-blended. Stir in the pecans.

2. Spread the mixture over the baked crust and return to the 350-degree oven until the filling is dark-golden on top and jiggles slightly when tapped, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and cool completely.

3. Sprinkle a light coating of sifted powdered sugar over the pan if desired, and cut into 24 bars. The bars can be made 1 day in advance. Wrap in plastic and keep at room temperature.

Each bar: 247 calories; 2 grams protein; 36 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber;11 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 50 mg. cholesterol; 184 mg. sodium.

The cookbook neglects to instruct bakers to dust the finished bars with powdered sugar, so I was glad that the LA Times article included this. The dusting of sugar definitely prettifies these bars.

Also, I like to use 1 1/2 cups of nuts instead of the specified 1 cup. I like to fine chop 3/4 cup in my mini food processer and course chop 3/4 cup by hand.

You may scoff at the 3 cups of graham crackers in the crust. And that's not counting the 2/3 cup in the filling. Sounds pretty pedestrian, doesn't it? But, oh my, it is not pedestrian. It's not even public
transportation. It's a convertible zipping around a hairpin curve. The sweet, chewy, nutty goodness of these easy-to-make bars gives you that kind of high.

So, it's a nice little circle we've formed. Susan Campoy nurtured thousands in her lifetime. My doctor and his staff have nurtured thousands of patients in their careers. And now I get to do my little bitty part to nurture the nurturers with these rich and chewy treats, from a recipe by a nurturing woman.

The circle of sweets is complete.

Don't even think about it, Tiger.

(PLEASE forgive me for not responding to all of the wonderful comments and questions on the most recent post and other posts. Life has been busy, and I'm still feeling a bit overwhelmed - in a good way - by the increase of activity from blog of note.)

(PS I'm still in remission and just going for my monthly visit.)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Celebrating with Julienne

Long before I started shouting out, "Tall half-caf, lowfat latte for here," at Starbuck's, I was ordering full-caf, full-fat cafe au laits at Julienne in San Marino.

A friend, who was once the restaurant manager for the popular eatery, introduced four other Gymboree moms and me to the joys of cafe au laits and Julienne nearly 20 years ago. It was like a modern day circling of the wagons when we six moms took over the cafe's patio with our six oversized strollers filled with our bouncing bistro babies.

Since then, Julienne has continued to be a special place to meet friends for breakfast or lunch or to purchase a package of their buttery, cheesy parmesan toasts for a party. (As a matter of fact, just last month I met two of those same Gymboree moms for breakfast.)

So when I found out that Julienne owner Susan Campoy was publishing a cookbook, Celebrating with Julienne, I knew that I had to have it.

I have a wide range of reasons for adding a cookbook to my collection. Sometimes I want a curl-up-by-the-fire read filled with luscious photos and food memories. Other times I'm focused on a a specific cuisine or a favorite chef. And then, more often than not, it's about trying to duplicate the restaurant experience.

Celebrating with Julienne hits all those buttons. Part of the joy of dining at Julienne is the attention to detail in the food and every aspect of the decor. I love how the book mirrors the warmth and surprising details of the restaurant. I immediately curled up with the book and savored every delicious page.

But, of course, looks aren't everything. I love how the recipes, many of my favorites, are easy to follow and organized just like Julienne with a Brasserie section (breakfast and lunch), Gourmet Market section (with favorite recipes from Julienne To Go) and Celebrations with ideas and recipes for a chocolate festival, family Easter, Hollywood Bowl picnic, an evening in Morocco, a harvest feast and a winter celebration.

I started off easy with something I've been eating for years: the Candied Applewood Bacon. You have to love a recipe with just two ingredients - bacon and brown sugar.

Julienne Candied Applewood bacon served for breakfast with left-over oven-roasted red potatotes and sauteed spinach.

I'm looking forward to cooking and baking and celebrating my way through Celebrating with Julienne.

(Celebrating with Julienne is available in the Pasadena area at Julienne, Vroman's, Joan's on Third, Marz, Nicole's Gourmet Foods, San Marino Stationers, Hollyhock, Savor the Flavor and Little Flower Candy Co. You can also order a copy here or on Amazon.com.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Door of Opportunity

Is that opportunity knocking?
The mail box is for storing gloves and clippers.
The black chalkboard is for drawing or messages.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the blight that co-mingled with the beauty in our back yard. I was especially concerned about the neighbor's air conditioning unit that thrust itself into the little kitchen garden tucked into the corner of our property.

The proposed solution was to mount an old door as a combined screen, garden element and catch-all for garden tools and gloves. Your response was overwhelmingly positive. (Well, except for one commenter who advised me to "get a life." Anyone who knows me is aware that I actually have the opposite problem - too much life, not enough time, but you never hear anyone snarking, "Get rid of some life.")

Yesterday, the handy man mounted the door and I'm thrilled with the results.

I like to have my morning coffee on these child-sized Adirondack chairs. If you have hips like a snake, then perhaps you can join me.

The door doesn't just hide the offending unit. I've hidden garden tools and surplus hay and straw behind the door.

I love this little stool that I picked up last week at the Fullerton Arboretum's Gift Shop. No nails and less than $20. (Sorry. It was the last one.)

And, speaking of opportunities, the "Blog of Note" designation has created a flurry of activity, including many new followers and lovely and interesting comments and emails. Thanks so much for reading this blog. I am humbled because many of you have such fascinating blogs; I will attempt to visit more in the next couple weeks.