Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Summer Tomatoes Saved for Winter Dishes

Even as the heat of the sun makes us wonder if summer will ever end, as the saying goes, "Winter is coming."

Walking through the farmers markets, I am happy to see a great abundance of tomatoes. With that abundance comes lower prices. Find a farmer who has too much of a good thing and the price comes down even more.


"Reduced to sell." "Soft ready to eat." Those are the tomatoes I look for. I'll buy them by the bagful. Five or ten pounds at a time. My plan is to prepare for a time when fresh tomatoes are a thing of the past.


I am anticipating a time when storm clouds are outside and I'm staring into the refrigerator looking for inspiration. I yearn for the produce of summer: leafy greens, corn and full-bodied tomatoes. But there is a way to enjoy the sweet-acidic deliciousness of tomatoes even in the darkest days of winter. Just look in your freezer.
With abundant tomatoes in the farmers markets, buy ripe tomatoes, roast and freeze them to be used in braises, soups and sauces in the fall and winter. Once blasted with heat in the oven, the tomatoes happily take to the freezer if they are covered in liquid.
Enjoy frozen roasted tomatoes whole or puree into sauce, and as rain beats against your windows and snow accumulates on your lawn, you will remember those heady summer flavors.

Oven-roasted tomatoes to use as a side dish or in sauces

Use ripe and over-ripe tomatoes. If you can find only unripe, hard tomatoes, leave them in a sunny spot on the kitchen counter until they ripen. Bruised tomatoes are OK as long as you use a sharp paring knife to remove the damaged parts. Avoid tomatoes with broken skin because of the risk of mold.
Any kind of tomato can be used: heirloom, Roma, cherry, large or small salad tomatoes.
A food mill is helpful when making the sauce. If one is not available, a fine meshed wire strainer will do almost as well.


When roasting the tomatoes, it is important to use parchment paper or a nonstick Silpat mat to prevent the tomatoes from sticking to the baking sheet. With a Silpat mat, none of the good bits that caramelize on the bottom are wasted.

Roasted Tomatoes

Tomatoes love the sun’s heat when they’re growing. And they love the oven’s heat that coaxes a rich umami sweetness out of their naturally acidic souls.
That sweetness is at the heart of the roasted tomatoes that will be in your freezer.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Roasting time: 60 minutes
Yield: 1 to 2 quarts
Ingredients
5 pounds tomatoes, washed, patted dry
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Directions 
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper cut to size. Use a baking sheet with a 1-inch lip to capture any liquids created during roasting.
3. Use a sharp paring knife to cut a “V” shape around the stem, remove and discard. With cherry tomatoes, any stems can be brushed off the surface without making a cut.
4. Place the de-stemmed tomatoes on the lined baking sheet, stem side up.
5. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper.
6. Place in oven and roast 60 minutes.
7. Remove and let cool.

Freezing Whole Roasted Tomatoes

When you remove the baking sheet from the oven, you’ll notice a clear liquid has accumulated on the bottom. Some of that is olive oil. But most of the liquid is a clear tomato essence prized by chefs for its clean flavor.
If you are freezing some of the roasted tomatoes whole, use the clear liquid to cover the tomatoes in the deli containers.
Use airtight containers that are about the same width as the tomatoes so you will need a small amount of liquid to cover them.

Defrosting Whole Roasted Tomatoes

When you want to use the tomatoes, take them out of the freezer in the evening and let them defrost overnight. If any ice crystals have accumulated on top of the tomatoes, rinse off the ice before defrosting.
If you want to serve them whole, the tomatoes can be warmed in the oven or microwave. They are delicate, so handle them carefully.

Whole Roasted Tomato, Easy-to-Make Pasta Sauce

A deliciously simple pasta sauce to make any time of the year, not just in winter. Serve the pasta with steamed vegetables, a charred steak or a grilled chicken breast and you will have a perfect cold weather meal that warms body and soul.
The flavorful tomato sauce can become a vegan dish by simply omitting the butter and cheese.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Sauté time: 5 minutes
Pasta cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 pound fresh or packaged pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, roughly chopped (optional)
1 garlic clove, peeled, finely chopped
2 to 3 whole, large roasted tomatoes, skins removed
1 teaspoon sweet butter (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Directions
1. Place a large pot of water on high heat. Add 1 tablespoon sea salt to the water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir well every 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Place a heat-proof cup in the sink next to a large strainer. When the pasta is al dente to your taste, about 10 minutes, pour the pasta into the strainer, capturing one cup of the salted pasta water. Reserve.
3. Toss the cooked pasta to prevent clumping.
4. At the same time the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan on a medium-high flame. Heat the olive oil.
5. Add the parsley and garlic. Lightly brown.
6. Holding the roasted tomatoes over the sauté pan, use your hands to tear them apart so you capture all the liquid. Add any liquid from the deli container.
7. Stir well and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
8. Taste and salt, if needed; add a tablespoon or more of the pasta water.
9. Stir well and add butter. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding sea salt and black pepper.
10. When ready to serve, add the cooked pasta to the sauté pan. Over a medium flame, toss the pasta in the sauce to coat.
11. Serve hot with a bowl of Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

The tomatoes used to make the sauce are prepared and roasted in the same manner as those used to create whole roasted tomatoes.
Directions
1. Working with small batches, remove the roasted tomatoes from the baking sheet and put some of the roasted tomatoes into a food mill or fine mesh, wire strainer placed over a nonreactive bowl. Press the tomatoes through, collecting all the juice in the bowl.

2. Use a spatula to scrape off the pulp that will accumulate on the bottom of the food mill or the strainer. Add the pulp to the juice.

3. Discard the tomato skins. Or add to your compost. Or, even better, reserve in the freezer to use with other vegetable scraps to make vegetable stock.

Freezing Roasted Tomato Sauce

Put the open deli containers on a counter. Stir the tomato juice to mix with the pulp.

Fill each deli container to a half-inch below the top so that when the sauce freezes, the liquid will have room to expand and will not force open the lid.
When cooled, the filled containers can be placed in the freezer.

Defrosting Roasted Tomato Sauce

Even without defrosting, the frozen sauce can be used at the last minute, when you want to thicken a soup, add a layer of flavor to a braise or make a simple pasta sauce.
There are infinite ways to use this versatile sauce. One of my favorites is an easy-to-make pasta with sautéed vegetables.
If any ice crystals accumulate on the top of the sauce, rinse off the ice before defrosting.

Penne Pasta With Roasted Tomato Sauce and Sautéed Vegetables

Prep time: 10 minutes
Sauté time: 10 minutes
Pasta cooking time: 10 minutes
Total cooking time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 pound fresh or packaged pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, washed, stems removed, peeled, cut into rounds
1 medium yellow onion, washed, stems removed, peeled, roughly chopped
8 large shiitake mushrooms, ends of the stems removed, washed, patted dry, roughly chopped
2 cups broccolini or broccoli, washed, cut into florets, the stems cut into slabs
2 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed, finely chopped
12 ounces frozen tomato sauce, defrosted on the counter overnight
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or pinch of cayenne (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Directions
1. Place a large pot of water on high heat. Add 1 tablespoon sea salt to the water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir well every 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Place a heat-proof cup in the sink next to a large strainer. When the pasta is al dente to your taste, pour the pasta into the strainer, capturing one cup of the salted pasta water. Reserve.
3. Toss the cooked pasta to prevent clumping.
4. At the same time the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan on a medium flame.
5. Heat the olive oil.
6. Add carrots, onion, shiitake mushrooms, broccolini and garlic. Sauté until lightly browned.
7. Add roasted tomato sauce, butter and pepper flakes. Stir well. Taste. If salt is needed, add a tablespoon or more of the pasta water.
8. Simmer on a medium flame and reduce.
9. Taste, adjust seasoning and continue simmering if you want the sauce to be thicker.
10. When the sauce is the consistency you like, add the cooked pasta, coat well.
11. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more sea salt or black pepper.
12. Serve hot with a bowl of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Amsterdam, Jenever and Me, Together Again

I'm back in Amsterdam. Which makes me very happy. I celebrated being here by walking across the city.

For a coffee at a local hangout, I met Machteld Ligtvoet, a friend from several trips to the city. The brasserie and bar de Ysbreeker (Weesperzijde 23, 1091 EC) was named for the ice breakers that used to dock on the Amstel River in front of the 18th century building. We talked about Amsterdam and she shared some of her favorite destinations.

After we said goodbye, I could have taken a tram back to the INK Hotel Amsterdam where I am staying or, as Machteld suggested, I could walk.

That was great advice. Walking across the city was so much fun. 

I walked on the east side of the Amstel River, checking out the river traffic and the house boats moored along the river and the canals. Then I walked across the city center so I could stop at the Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam. I had heard that the Grand's 1-star Michelin restaurant Bridges had recently been remodeled. 




Anne-Claire Koopman, Marketing Manager at the Grand, gave me a tour of Bridges. The restaurant is a delight. Elegant, modern and intimate. I didn't have time in my schedule to have a meal, but next trip, that will be at the top of my must-do list. 

There were other changes at Bridges as well. A new bar, the addition of a chef's table in the heart of the kitchen and an expanded bistro, where we found a seat with a close-up view of the beautifully lush courtyard garden. 



For a snack, we had a plate of  bitterballen, that quintessential Dutch appetizer made with flour and bits of meat, deep fried and served with a proper spicy mustard. Delicious! But it was the beverages that gave me a Proustian moment.



In 2015 I was in Amsterdam and stumbled on a liquor store on the edge of the Jordaan, 2008 Wine & Spirits (Haarlemmerdijk 59). Ron Verhoeven offered me a tasting of Jenever or Genever, a distinctive Dutch spirit. Clear or amber, depending on the age, it was love at first sip.

Verhoeven set me on a path that I've pursued since then. I wrote an article about Jenever, which I am reprinting here.

Which brings me back to Bridges. Jenever was on the drink menu. Of course, this is Amsterdam. The bistro poured Jonge Bols Dubbelgestookte Graanjenever with a beer back. I loved the combination of a strong clean spirit and the effervescence of a light Dutch beer. Delicious. 

All that was missing was to close the circle.

After I said goodbye to Anne-Claire, I continued walking north through drizzle and sunny skies. I crossed DAM Square, joining the throngs of tourists north on Nieuwendijk, which finally became Haarlemmerdijk. I was returning to square one, the place where it all began.

I walked into 2008 Wine & Spirits expecting to see Ron Verhoeven again. He wasn't there. Arjan his brother-in-law greeted me. 



I quickly saw what I wanted. Zuidam: Jonge Graan Genever. I bought two bottles to bring home. Arjan told me the history of genever and how the quintessential Dutch spirit fell out of favor in the 60s and 70s. Happily in the last twenty years, jenever has had a resurgence. Large and small producers have embraced the spirit, improving the quality, striking out into new flavor directions.

For the rest of the evening, at dinner at de Belhamel (Brouwersgracht 60) and for a nightcap at the Pressroom Bar at INK, I sampled more jeneers. Oh, happiness.

I enjoyed a Wees Jonge and a Zuidam Gelagerde Korenwijin 5 Jaar Vat Gelagerd. So different. So delicious. 

Which leads me to the article I wrote about Jenever. I'm reposting it now, to share with you my enjoyment of jenever and hope you join me in lifting a glass, with a beer back, to salute the wonders of Amsterdam and the Dutch! (Did I mention that my grandfather was born in Rotterdam?)

Jenever’s clean, bright taste is perfect neat or in cocktails.

If you visit Amsterdam, you will be advised to do as the Dutch do. No matter the weather, rain or shine, jump on a bicycle and explore the city. A necessary part of the Dutch experience is to stop in a neighborhood bar for a sandwich and a glass of jenever (or, genever, as it is variously spelled, and pronounced “yin-e-ver”).

You will happily greet the waiter who delivers jenever to your table in its traditional tulip shaped glass. As you sip, the jenever will give you “Dutch courage” to go back outside to continue your adventures.


For hundreds of years, jenever was the favorite drink of the Netherlands. When the English and Dutch fought a war in the 17th century, the English soldiers remarked about the fierceness of their opponents. That fierceness seemed to have something to do with the drink they shared before battle. Soon the English were drinking jenever as ardently as the Dutch and when they returned home, they wanted more of the same.

They called their creations “gin,” a reference to jenever but gin was made in a very different way. Because gin is better known, jenever is sometimes incorrectly called “Dutch gin.”

The Basics

Both use juniper berries as an aromatic, but jenever is distilled from malt wine made with rye, corn and wheat, while gin is distilled from grains. That malty base gives jenever a quality similar to whiskey or scotch. 


To be called a jenever, the spirit can only be produced in the regions specified as AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée), which include the Netherlands, Belgium and a few areas in France and Germany. In 2008, two sub-categories were created that differentiated a “young” (jonge) and an “old” (oude) jenever. The names refer not to age but to the percentage of malt wine and sugar in each. Following the historic practice, old jenever must have at least 15% malt wine and no more than 20 grams of sugar per liter. Creating a more modern and lighter distillate, young jenever may have no more than 15% malt wine and no more than 10 grams of sugar per liter.

A few jenevers are exported to the U.S. and they are prized by mixologists.  The best way to enjoy the great variety produced by Dutch distilleries is to go on a jenever-bar-crawl in Amsterdam.

A Walking Tour of Amsterdam’s Jenever Tasting Rooms
Walking along the canals, visiting museums and hanging out in coffee shops, you will want to visit several of Amsterdam’s jenever tasting rooms called proeflokaal. Many of those family-run bars are in historic rooms with ancient wood paneled walls, cooper pots used in distillation and shelves lined with dozens of types of jenever. 

For my tour of Amsterdam, after I crossed tourist-popular Dam Square in front of the Royal Palace, I walked down a narrow pedestrian walk-way lined with centuries old stone buildings that all but blocked out the bright blue sky overhead. Finally I reached Wynand Fockink (Pijlsteeg 31, 1012 HH Amsterdam,+31 20 639 2695), a 17th century tavern with a retail store in one small room and a bar in the other. 

Wynand Fockink feels like a setting you’ve seen in a Rembrandt painting with low ceilings and long wooden shelves, sagging with age and the weight of a great many liquor bottles. No mixed cocktails are served here. The bartenders offer customers tastings of their old, young, spelt, rye and superior jenevers in traditional tulip shaped glasses.

Another destination for that old school experience is the charming, historic, 19th century building housing Proeflokaal A. van Wees (Herengracht 319, 1016 AV Amsterdam, Netherlands, +31 20 625 4334). The tasting room serves sixteen types of van Wees jenever. The young jenevers have a light, bright flavor. The old jenevers, of which there are many, have flavors varied by the choice of botanicals and the length of time spent in oak casks. Some of those jenevers are aged as long as fifteen and twenty years to create flavors similar to brandy or fine Scotch. 


The Van Wees Distillery (Van Wees distilleerderij de Ooievaar) originally opened in 1782, may be the oldest, continuously run jenever distillery in Amsterdam. Fenny van Wees, the current owner and distiller, took over from her father who followed his father into the business. Now her daughter, Nikki Swart, has joined her. Their small batch jenevers are sold in bars around Amsterdam and exported throughout Europe, although not as yet to the U.S. About her release, the Miracle of Amsterdam (Mirakel van Amsterdam), she uses phrases commonly employed to describe fine wines and exquisite whiskeys. 



“It smells like honey, straw, vanilla, lemon, cardamom and other sultry scents, as if you’re wandering around through a warm eastern countryside. Tasteful and yet absolutely charming and elegant. In my opinion a female jenever, made by a female.”

For a completely different experience, a must-stop on a jenever tour of Amsterdam is the House of Bols (Paulus Potterstraat 14, 1071 CZ Amsterdam, +31 20 570 8575). The design style is modern, bright and colorful. In the Mirror Bar, the décor is fun and exciting as guests gather around the long bar to watch mixologists ply their trade. Guests can also join a workshop in cocktail mixology and have tastings of Bols’ liquors and jenevers as well as take a tour of the distillery and experience the varied aromas and flavors used in creating spirits in the Hall of Taste. 

Jenever in the U.S.

Making an appearance in Michelin-starred restaurants and bars around the country, jenever appeals to mixologists who like its distinctive flavors and its ability to play nice with other ingredients.  

Leo Robitschek at New York’s Nomad Bar (1170 Broadway, New York 10001, 212 796 1500) uses jenever to build complex flavors in his cocktails. To make the Dr. Walnut cocktail, he mixes Bols Genever 1820 with Amaro Ciociaro, Royal Combier, hazelnut liqueur, lemon juice, egg white and shaved walnuts. For a completely different experience, Bols Genever 1820, pisco and cachaça are combined to create a high-octane base in the Sakura Maru cocktail, flavored with sheep’s milk yogurt, lemon juice and agave. 

At San Francisco’s Mint 54 (16 Mint Plaza, San Francisco 94103, 415 543 5100) in Union Square, Jacobo Rosito uses a light touch when he creates jenever cocktails.  His New Era cocktail, a riff on a Moscow Mule puts Bols 1820 Genever front and center in a light mixer of St. Germain, lime juice, Fever Tree ginger beer and a few dashes of Angostura Bitters. For his Smokey Old Fashioned, he accents Bols Barrel Aged Genever with Lapsang Souchong syrup and bitters 12.  


Rosito says that those two cocktails are now the most popular at 54 Mint. For an after dinner digestive, he recommends Bols Barrel Aged Genever, which he happily admits he loves neat as his own end-of-the-evening treat. Rosito declares enthusiastically that jenever will become the new trend in the U.S.

Cesar Cerrudo at Mercado Modern (301 N. Spurgeon Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701, 714 338 2446)
also benefited from a visit to Amsterdam. Cerrudo riffs on classic cocktails using Bols genevers. With a nod to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, for his Red Light Negorni he uses Bols Genever, Pisco Viejo Tonel Acholado, Galliano L’Aperitivo infused with strawberries, lavender infused Carpano Antica Vermouth, Fee Brothers Rhubarb bitters, Fernet Vallet and clove smoke. His customers enjoy the way the genever interacts with the pisco, giving his Negorni a distinctive flavor profile.


By inviting mixologists to Amsterdam, Bols familiarized Rosito, Cerrudo and many others with jenever. As bartenders become better acquainted with jenever and demand increases, expect small batch distilleries like Wynand Fockink, Van Wees Distillery, Zuidam and others to make their distinctive jenevers available in the U.S. When that happens, jenever’s clean, bright flavors will compete for the attention of loyal mescal, gin and whiskey drinkers. And that will be a good day for everyone who loves quality spirits.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Watermelon Ice Cubes to Cool Down Summer's Sizzle


A summer heat wave is messing with planet earth. Making an icy-cold batch of watermelon ice cubes will definitely take the edge off the heat.
You love summer but not when it is uncomfortably hot. For relief, you could jump into the pool. Or, you could cut a thick slice of watermelon and let the sweet juices cool you down. Even better, you could fill a tall glass with a watermelon cocktail made with watermelon ice cubes and straight-from-the-freezer vodka and settle into the chaise lounge.

You stir the ice cubes. Bits of watermelon juice break free. The crystal clear vodka turns pink. You sip, stir and eat a watermelon ice cube and suddenly you are not overheated any longer.  Now, you are cool and happy.

The non-alcoholic version is as delicious. Fill a tall glass with watermelon ice cubes and pour in freshly made lemonade. Stir and enjoy.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

Summer is good for watermelon. They grow quickly in the heat of the sun, producing fat, heavy fruit loaded with sweetness.
At the farmers market I was always told to use a hand to thump on the melon. When the sound was deep and resonant, the melon was ripe, ready to eat. If there is a farmer you frequent at your neighborhood market, ask for advice about a good melon that’s ready to eat.
Prices for watermelon vary greatly. At Asian and Latin markets, watermelon can sell for as little as 10 cents a pound. At upscale supermarkets and farmers markets, the prices can be significantly higher.
A melon is delicious at room temperature or ice cold. I like to chill the melon overnight in the refrigerator. Of course, the easiest way to eat watermelon is to use a sharp knife to cut out a thick slice.
But when I was in Zurich recently I met Olivier Rais, a talented chef who runs the bistro Rive Gauche in the iconic hotel Baur au Lac across the street from Lake Geneva. He had just returned from working with Tal Ronnen, the celebrated chef who created Crossroads Kitchen, an upscale Los Angeles restaurant devoted to vegan cuisine.
Rais made several vegan dishes for me to taste, one of which was a watermelon-gazpacho served in a glass.
I love watermelon but had never thought of extracting the juice. When I replicated his gazpacho at home, I had watermelon juice left over. Deciding to experiment, I reduced the juice in a sauce pan over a low flame. Once the juice cooled, I poured it into a mini-ice cube tray.
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
That night I added the ice cubes to vodka that we keep in the freezer. I dropped in an espresso spoon, settled into a chair and stirred my drink. After a few sips, I realized that I had stumbled onto an easy-to-make, deliciously refreshing cocktail. Summer’s perfect drink.
Serve the cocktail with an espresso or small spoon. One of the pleasures of the drink is stirring the ice cubes. As the ice cubes melt, the watermelon juice infuses the vodka. The mellow sweetness takes the edge off the vodka.
As you stir, the ice cubes crater and reduce by half. Use the spoon to scoop up the icy bits. In an effervescent moment, the softened ice cubes dissolve like pop rocks in your mouth.

Watermelon Surprise

Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Use any size plastic ice cube tray. The mini-trays that make 1” square ice cubes work well because the ice cubes melt easily. Use only unflavored premium vodka, and for non-alcoholic drinks, add the ice cubes to glasses of carbonated water or lemonade.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Freezer time: 1 hour or overnight depending on the temperature of the freezer
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes or overnight and 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 (3-pound) watermelon, washed
8 ounces unflavored premium vodka
Directions
1. Place the vodka bottle in the freezer the night before serving.
2. Using a sharp knife, remove the rind from the watermelon. Discard.
3. Cut the melon into chunks, removing any seeds.
4. Place a food mill or a fine mesh strainer over a non-reactive bowl.
5. Press the watermelon chunks through the food mill or strainer, capturing all the juice in the bowl. Discard any pulp and seeds.
6. Pour the juice into a sauce pan over low heat. Reduce volume by 30%. Remove from stove. Allow to cool.
7. Pour the reduced juice into the ice cube tray.
8. Place into freezer.
9. Just before serving, pour 1½ ounces ice cold vodka into each glass. Place 5 to 6 ice cubes into each glass.
10. Serve with an espresso or small spoon.
Main photo: Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
   

Saturday, June 30, 2018

July 4th is Here Again, Time to Celebrate the Birth of Our Nation with a Meal Shared with Family and Friends

I am reprising my July 4th post from last year. Everything we made last year, we're making again because we enjoy the dishes so much. We hope you will enjoy the holiday this year and celebrate what is best about our country and our lives.

We're having a party. On July 4th we'll gather in the park opposite our local high school (Pali High) to eat, catch up and watch fireworks. Everyone will bring food and drinks to share and a sweater because when the sun goes down, it gets chilly.

We have been doing this for so many years, I'm not certain when we started. Over the years sometimes the group grows to almost thirty. Sometimes a handful of friends shows up. It all depends on what day of the week the holiday falls. We've noticed that when the 4th falls on a weekend, there isn't enough time to travel out of town, so our group swells. This year, the 4th is on Tuesday, so our group will be more intimate. Big or small, the gathering is fun.

Everyone is asked to bring a favorite food. Something special. This year I'm making fried chicken the way chef Wes Whitsell (Manuela DTLA) showed me for a cooking video we did last month. His fried chicken is crispy and moist. For the cooking demonstration he made wings, thighs and legs. He doesn't like breasts because they don't have enough flavor. I pretty much agree. For my pot luck contribution, I'm making cut apart wings and legs, the easiest parts to eat at a picnic.


I'm also making carrot salad with golden raisins soaked in lemon juice & seasoned with black pepper, Yukon gold potato salad with charred corn & parsley, a charred corn & vegetable saladroasted beet saladgarbanzo bean salad with charred onions & Lacinato (purple) kale, salt boiled broccoli florets and a buttermilk custard pie I saw Martha Stewart demonstrate on her PBS show.


I'll also make an Italian parsley salad with chopped vegetables and pitted olives and a Little Gem lettuce salad with carrot rounds and feta cheese, served with whole wheat lavash.


Only recently did I discover Little Gem lettuce. First, at Glatt, a kosher market, on Pico east of Robertson and then at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market at the Garden of Organic stand. At first I thought they were "baby" romaine lettuces. They have a cleaner, crisper flavor, with less water and more crunch. Wrapped in a damp kitchen towel and placed into a plastic bag, the heads will keep fresh in the refrigerator for three weeks.


Here's the recipe I'll use for the 4th (which is exactly the recipe I use when I make the salad at home except sometimes I'll trade out the feta for blue cheese).

Crispy Little Gem Lettuce Salad

When making the salad, leave the leaves whole so they don't wilt.

For the olives, use any kind you enjoy. We like Castelvetrano Green olives, which can be found pitted for easy use, although olives taste best when not pitted.


Serves 4

Time to prepare: 20 minutes

Ingredients

2 heads Little Gem Lettuce, leaves removed whole, washed, pat dried

1 large carrot, washed, ends removed, peeled, cut into thin rounds

1 large tomato, stem end removed, washed, pat dried, cut into dime size pieces

1 cup pitted olives, roughly chopped

1 scallion, ends removed, washed, brown leaves discarded, cut into paper thin rounds (optional)

1/2 cup feta, pat dried, crumbled

1 medium avocado, washed, peeled, pit and any brown spots removed, cut into dime sized pieces

1/2 cup homemade croutons (optional)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, reduced over a low flame to 2 teaspoons, cooled

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Lay the Little Gem leaves in the bottom of a serving bowl. Sprinkle on the carrots, tomatoes, olives, scallions (optional), feta, avocado and croutons (optional).

Just before serving, season with sea salt and black pepper, drizzle on olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar.

Serve with a knife and fork.

Summer Tomatoes Saved for Winter Dishes

Even as the heat of the sun makes us wonder if summer will ever end, as the saying goes, "Winter is coming." Walking through th...