Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cutting Up on Thanksgiving

The Land of "Ahhs": Cut it up right, and your carved turkey will be as beautiful as the whole bird.

Forget about that Norman Rockwell painting with the patriarch waiting to do his manly duty at the Thanksgiving table. As LA Times Food Editor Russ Parsons says, some things are best done in private. And carving a turkey is one of them.

This Thanksgiving, my brother, who flew out from
Buckeye country with his Bonnie bride, worked alone and in private as he cut up the bird. Lucky for me, he had just watched a Food Network segment that recommended removing the two whole breasts and then carving them against the grain. (Alas, table-side carvers can only carve with the grain.) The technique produces uniform-sized slices, a more tender bite, equal sharing of that crispy skin and a presentation that would make Rockwell proud.

This tutorial video from the LA Times shows Russ Parsons carving the bird in the same style that my brother learned from the Food Network. (The video is embedded at the end of this post. Sorry I wasn't able to insert it here.)

Now I just need to figure out a way to lure him out to LA for an al fresco Thanksgiving every year. I think the key may be that "al fresco" part.

Al Fresco Feast: With temps in the low 80s, we opted for outdoor casual instead of Limoges formal.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Trespassing Snobs

The San Marino Security van was parked in front of our trespassing site.

We may think that we live in an egalitarian society
, but let me dispel that myth.

We are all snobs in some way. Some of us are food snobs; others wine snobs and some among us are literary snobs. But the worst, most sanctimonious snob is the middle class Everyman who looks down on the tasteless members of the upper class. In Southern California, land of the conspicuous consumer, it's easy to find rich people to look down upon.

And that's why the terrace of a San Marino mansion on sale for $10 million was the perfect site for a trespasser's picnic. For one beautiful fall afternoon, eight members of the middle class felt vastly superior to the ruling class.

We took pot shots at the plaster statues, dismembered doric columns, Astroturf in the front lawn and the indoor-outdoor carpet leading to the grand entrance.

And then we sipped our sparkling wine with a pesto torta and a pimento cheese loaf (it's low brow food, but it gets a blesssing from the December Bon Appetit Magazine). We drank fine red wines in vintage glasses as we ate our green salad and hearty beef stew.

This recipe for the pesto torta is from a 1991 issue of Sunset Magazine:

Pesto Cheese Torta

1 cup ricotta cheese

4 ounces cream cheese

Pesto filling (recipe follows or purchase a cup of your favorite ready-made pesto)

Fresh basil sprigs

Thin baguette slices

Crisp raw vegetables

With mixer, beat ricotta and neufchatel until well blended. Smoothly line a clean, unused, tall 2-cup flower pot with two layers of moistened, wrung-dry cheesecloth (or 1 layer moistened muslin); cloth should drape over rim.

With a spoon, press 1/4 of cheese evenly into pot. Press 1/3 of the pesto onto cheese; repeat, finishing with layer of cheese. (I like to also add a layer of sun dried tomatoes.) Fold edges of cloth smoothly over cheese. Cover airtight and chill at least 2 hours or up to a day. Fold back cloth and invert torta onto small plate. Gently lift off cheesecloth.

If making ahead, cover airtight and chill up to a day. Garnish with basil sprigs. Spread on bread and vegetables. Makes about 2 cups, 7 or 8 servings.

Pesto filling. In a blender or food processor, whirl 2 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, 1 cup (about 5 oz.) freshly grated parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and enough water (1 or 2 tablespoons) to make a smooth paste. Stir in 1/4 cup pine nuts and season with salt to taste.

Sure, you can buy a similar torta from Trader Joe's, but if you make this easy home-made version, you will feel vastly superior.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Treat of a Retreat and Another Arroyo Food Co-Op Social

Ordinarily, when you're on a board and the president schedules a "board retreat," it's a good idea to make appropriate excuses. "Oh, I"m so sorry, but that's the day that I'm taking the cat to the vet." "Oh, no. I'm having a root canal that day." And, believe me, in most cases the root canal would be the less painful option.

If you're lucky, no board member has committed murder-suicide by the end of the "retreat." Even members of the most harmonious groups can turn into eye-rolling adolescents after being cooped up for eight-hours straight.

But that wasn't the case last Saturday when I spent eight hours with the steering committee of the Arroyo Food Co-op Store. Our retreat location, in a private cabin in the Angeles National Forest, was idyllic, the food was delicious and the company, even after that eight-hour stretch, was smart, insightful and fun.

We were even able to discuss the merit and meaning of words such as "gourmet," "real food," "local" and "organic" without breaking into a food fight.

Would you like to have an inside glimpse into the creativity and passion of this group? Would you like to become more involved on a task or planning basis?

Then join me at the first Pasadena social gathering on Saturday, November 14. You'll get to meet the organizers, find out how the Arroyo Food Co-op Store is progressing and learn ways to get involved.

When: Saturday November 14, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Yoga House, 11 W. State St., Pasadena
Admission is free.

And, since I'm in charge of food (and since this is a food blog), I'll share the menu for our "light refreshments":

- Homemade tri-color torta of pesto, sun dried tomatoes and marscarpone cheese with baguette slices

- Roasted baby potatoes

- Roasted Jerusalem artichokes

- Cold or hot apple cider (with a little something to spike it)

Come for the food, stay for the company and, before the end of the evening, sign up to become one of the first 500 members of the Arroyo Food Co-op.