Au gratin potatoes with spinach and gruyere

Au gratin potatoes with spinach and gruyere

  Behold, my au gratin potatoes and spinach with gruyere. It tastes even better than it looks, I promise. It was an improvisation; I had intended to serve Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains blend with steamed tilapia and artichokes for dinner, but LL texted on my way into the store asking for steak fries or hash browns instead. I wasn’t feeling it. But he loves potatoes au gratin. So instead, I bought a bag of Yukon gold potatoes, a bag of frozen spinach, and an 8-oz hunk of gruyere cheese. Back home, I buttered the vintage Blue Cornflower Corningware baking dish my mom gave me ages ago, so old it’s practically new again, and heated the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. My Kitchen Aid’s slicer/grater attachment made short work of the prep . . . I can’t believe I spent all these years slicing and grating by hand. It was simple to assemble. I layered frozen spinach, sliced potato, shredded gruyere, frozen spinach, sliced potato, shredded gruyere, poured about 1/2 cup of milk around the edges, and finished with grated parmesan cheese, baked it covered for 30 minutes, uncovered it, and let it brown for 10 minutes more. There was enough spinach to really get the flavor and make the dish feel morel like a meal. It was rich, so our portions were small and there were leftovers. I used mini springform pans for the second meal of this au gratin, placing a slice of ham steak on the bottom, the au gratin above, and finished by cracking two eggs on top. I baked this in a 350 degree oven for 15...
Tijuana dogs with homemade buns and memories

Tijuana dogs with homemade buns and memories

We saw Tijuana dogs – aka TJ dogs – all over San Diego last month, from the Marriott’s Tequila Grille to Little Italy’s Craft + Commerce to the food vendors on the walkway next to the otherwise staid USS Midway Museum.   Tijuana dogs are the ultimate street food – basically a bacon-wrapped hot dog with toppings. I’d never heard of them before, and from I could taste was definitely missing out. . . they are much better than you’d think, a perfect bite of salty, savory, tangy, and hot. For all you uninitiated, here’s a great Tijuana Dog graphic from food writer and cartoonist Hawk Krall that explains all the delicious possibilities:   One of the best things about traveling is finding, then trying to copy at home, those wonderful new tastes you discover along the way. TJ dogs were no exception, although I assumed they’d be hard to recreate, and wasn’t fully inspired to try it out until I discovered el Salchichero butcher shop in Santa Cruz, where chorizo bacon and handmade perro calientes spoke to me: We can become the Tijuana dogs of your dreams; our spicy salty goodness bringing back plumeria-scented memories of bike riding on Coronado Island, of gazing in wonder at enormous golden zodiac heads, of strolling through the Gaslight District and Little Italy in the twilight with your family . . . I think that’s what they said, anyway. They were convincing, nevertheless. And it turns out Tijuana dogs are a super-simple thing to make at home. Just start by wrapping a slice of bacon, spiral-style, around a hot dog.   Now put your raw...
Retro gourmet at Craft & Commerce

Retro gourmet at Craft & Commerce

Imagine the nerdy-cool kid from high school: the quiet and deliberately unfashionable one, the one who chose to wear horn-rimmed glasses and ride his bike to school every single day, the one who actually understood all the cultural references, and who surprised everyone by nonchalantly unveiling an enormous Calvin & Hobbes tattoo on his back one day toward the end of senior year. Imagine he went on to graduate studies in Twentieth-Century American Literature and spent the requisite semester at Oxford where he fell in love with pub life, rough-hewn wood, and full-bodied beer. Then he spent a summer on his uncle’s farm, where he fell in love with state fairs and home-cooked meals and classic rock, spending pleasantly stoned evenings absorbing The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and Welcome to the Machine and Court of the Crimson King through oversized headphones. Then, with newly acquired grown-up tastebuds and the deepened courage of his convictions, he made a life-changing leap to culinary school. And he was good. And so he opened a Restaurant. Imagine he approached the task philosophically, defining the vision of simplicity, value, and quality he’d experienced in his life thus far, and he used that vision to define his design, decor, and menu – inadvertently inventing a nouveau nostalgia along the way. And the rest of the world gets it because they’ve jumped on that early wave of hipster-dom he rode in his youth. Thus he created a Destination. That’s my vision, anyway, of how Craft & Commerce came to be. Call it fan fiction, foodie-style. My fantasy is based in delicious truth, though – here’s the evidence: He...

From French Chef to Fat Chef in fifty years

Fifty years ago Julia Child celebrated butter and cream, teaching us how to craft soufflés and beef Wellington on The French Chef. When her show was originally on the air, the average weight of an adult woman then was 140 pounds. In 1997 the International Federation of Competitive Eating was founded, and a few years later Man v. Food showed us how you can make a living by traveling and allowing yourself to be filmed stuffing as much food into your body in one sitting literally as humanly possible. Now the Food Network takes Fat Chefs and teaches them how to not eat quite so much and how to work off the calories. Today the average weight of an adult woman today is 164 pounds. There is, I think, connection here. Frank Bruni has been writing some thoughtful essays recently about how we are most likely genetically programmed toward weight gain, pointing out that the way in which we’ve become experts at processing food crops has led to the creation of a tremendous array of irresistibly salty, sweet, tasty, calorie-dense, and cheap things to grab and munch on at will. (Read the piece – he’s got some excellent points – then read the comments, which are also quite insightful.) This is Michael Pollan’s big point in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, showing how we take the million of acres of corn we grow and not just feeding it to the animals we eat, but reformulating it into almost a dozen more components of processed foods: For modified or unmodified starch, for crystalling fructose and ascorbic acid, for lecithin and dextrose, lactic acid and lysine, for maltose and...
Mita Gourmet

Mita Gourmet

When you land in Loreto, Baja California Sur, once you get through customs and settled into your casita or cabana, it will be time to get your bearings over a bit of dinner. Mita Gourmet is an excellent place to start. Located at the eastern edge of the historic plaza, it’s easy walking distance from anywhere you may be staying in town. Sit outside, take in the activities on the square, and sip your first margarita. Hopefully, guitarist Herzon Rivera will be there too, picking his way through a set that ranges from “My Way to “Wish You Were Here” to “Hotel California.” He’s awesome – make sure you have an extra 200 pesos to buy his CD. Be sure to order a bowl of crema de almejas with a side of flour tortillas. Chef Juan Carlos makes the luscious, velvety clam chowder with béchamel and chocolate clams, a local specialty named for the color of their shell, not the taste: The menu is quite extensive if you’re still hungry; it’s very old-school steakhouse with a Mexican flair and as much heat as you can handle. LL’s fresh halibut Veracruz, packed with chocolate clams, shrimp, olives, onion, and pepper in a zesty tomato sauce topped with a scoop of rice, was also quite tasty. Sadly, the photo doesn’t do it much justice: Mita Gourmet, like most of the restaurants in Loreto, does not take credit cards. No worries, though; there is an ATM on the opposite side of the square where you can get pesos from your credit or debit...
Pan Am and bacon jam

Pan Am and bacon jam

Think All My Children at 30,000 feet. James Bond in a girdle. My new favorite show, and certainly in the running for Best Show Ever, is Pan Am. Last night I watched all 4 episodes and was completely hooked; LL tells me I actually smiled the whole way through. Sure it lacks nuance, especially when compared to Mad Men, its smarter older brother. The plot points are more like exclamation marks, and surprise character development is neatly tucked in between commercials. But I don’t care. It was cotton candy for my brain, spun with fantasy and glamour. Drama without angst. Christina Ricci with awesome crazy eyes. And best of all – the stewardess is a spy! In my book, you just can’t get more ridiculous and fun than that. I had originally wanted to check out the show if only to cringe and groan. I read Nancy Franklin’s New Yorker piece on Pan Am and The Playboy Club and heard author Ann Hood’s take on her time as a TWA flight attendant on NPR’s The Story. Took note of online grumbles about today’s depiction of women as well as arguments about the show ranging from sexy feminism to rewriting history. But no one mentioned that it’s just plain entertaining. And like a medieval queen, at the end of the day I appreciate a little pure entertainment. I also appreciate a little supper. Earlier in the day LL emailed me this bit he read on SFGate.com: The infamous Butter Burger will return to Maverick next week on the 18th, and going forward, it will be on the menu every Tuesday in limited number. It is made of 70% Meyer...
Tartiflette

Tartiflette

Short days and cool nights often call for a rich, hearty entree. Try this tartiflette, a type of potatoes au gratin with ham that is made using the distinctive reblochon cheese. Delicious!

Grilled pizza how-to

Grilled pizza how-to

Jack Prelutsky’s pizza poem made me hungry! Since I’m thinking about pizza I thought I should let you in on the secrets of one thing I do really, really well – handmade barbecued pizza.

California cassoulet

The the very best of my recent experiments in leftover land turned out to be a stew LL dubbed California cassoulet. It lacks beans but really, I couldn’t resist the alliteration. The process is fairly typical of the way I cook that basically guarantees I’ll never be able to duplicate a recipe. But I did jot it all down after we figured out how mouthwateringly good it is, so I have hope. Here’s the “recipe” – Day 1: chicken stock. I had a leftover rotisserie chicken, half a large red onion, looking a little dry on the edges, and celery tops. Tossed in a stockpot and simmered with pepper and salt for several hours. Cooled then strained out all the bones, veg, and meat and tossed them out. Day 2: vegetable soup. I sauteed a VERY large julienned leek in a bit of olive oil, added two chopped peeled parsenips, two chopped peeled carrots and two chopped ribs of celery. Added the chicken stock and simmered for a couple of hours. Cooled and divided into two batches; one in the fridge and one in the freezer. Day 3. Nothing. The vegetable soup wasn’t very exciting so I just let it sit in the fridge for another day while I decided what to do with it. Hoped I’d remember to use it before it went bad. Remembered a cold, foggy day last summer when Kid Two astonished me by asking for chicken stew with polenta for dinner. It threw me because I’d never made chicken stew OR polenta. Turns out he’d had it at his Buddy’s house, who was unfortunately out...

When life gives you leftovers . . .

Driven in equal parts post-holidays purge, early spring cleaning and the desire to cook more frugally this year, I’ve been cleaning out the fridge and cooking up a storm lately. No artichoke, beet, or cube of smoked salmon is safe from my sauces, slowly simmered then stacked in the freezer. My taco/bean dip with leftover ground beef and a can of pinto beans was a miss; it needed some heat and was over-seasoned with powdered chile molido. A salad made from roasted beets, toasted pine nuts, and goat cheese, on the other hand, was a nice meal. I even made leftovers from leftovers – this was the evening friends came over for a post-holiday holiday celebration of homemade ravioli. Figuring we could make do with whatever I had on hand, I made one filling from the end of a frozen bag of artichoke hearts, the last half of a yellow onion, and the end of the cream cheese, with a sprinkle of saffron for good measure. Another filling from a lonely Italian sausage, no-longer-white mushrooms, bit of garlic, and the end of the ricotta. It felt like my own personal Chopped challenge. We didn’t need as much as I made of course. The next day I combined the two with a can of diced tomatoes and called it pasta sauce. Half for dinner and half in the freezer, a future quick meal in the...