Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Mixologists Declare Dutch Jenever as the Next Big Trend in the U.S.

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.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Tips on Travel: Ready, Set, Go, Time to Visit Japan

Japan is wonderful. The people are friendly. The landscape is beautiful. The food fantastic. The history fascinating. The culture captivating. In the past year I have had the good fortune to visit several times. As I traveled in large cities and out in the heartland, I jotted down some tips to help when you travel to Japan.


ENGLISH LANGUAGE FRIENDLY

As Japan prepares for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Summer Olympics, English language signs can now be found in the subway and railway systems. In busy transit centers in the cities, uniformed guides are also available to help English speaking travelers.


That being said, if you want to explore the heartland outside of the major cities, Japan is not especially easy for English-speaking travelers. If you have the resources, it is best to hire an English speaking guide and, if possible, a driver. 

When looking for a guide, understand there is a vast difference between “English proficient” and “English fluent” guides. Ideally you want a guide who has lived in the U.S. and is fluent. Without that proficiency, your guide might be limited to using simple words or phrases the way you do in a sushi bar when you are presented with a menu in Japanese.

MONEY, CREDIT CARDS AND PASSPORTS

Many shops, restaurants and bars take credit cards, but not all do, so you will need the local currency (the yen ¥) while you are in Japan. The best exchange rates are available at the airport at bank kiosks which are located in the transit area after you exit Customs. 


In the last several years, the dollar has gained against the yen. The exchange rate is in flux, but roughly speaking $1 U.S. dollar equals ¥100 Japanese yen. So ¥500 yen for a cup of coffee equals roughly $5.00 U.S. dollars.


As a general travel tip, be sure you notify your bank that you are traveling. Also, because mistakes happen and you do not want to be without credit and/or cash while you are traveling, carry two debit cards and two credit cards, all of which you placed on travel notification. That way, if there is an issue with one card, you have backups.

Before you leave home, make color copies of your passport and credit cards (front and back sides), so that in the unlikely instance they are lost or stollen, you can contact the authorities to obtain replacements. Carry the copies separately from your passport and credit cards.

TOKYO & NARITA

If you have not traveled extensively in Japan, you can have a wonderful "bite-sized" introduction to Japanese culture by visiting the city of Narita, five minutes from Narita International Airport and twenty-five minutes from Tokyo by train. 

Narita has one main street so it is easy to navigate. Most importantly and one of the things I love about Narita, English is spoken in most businesses because this is where international flight crews stay and the language of flying is English.


Arrival in Narita is at the train station at the top of the mile long main street Omotesando Street. Walk down the hill to explore shops selling sake, local handmade items, kimonos and souvenirs There are cafes and restaurants. Japanese food is, of course, exceptionally good. Most importantly, there are a dozen or more restaurants serving grilled fresh water eel (unagi)


I once asked a good friend who was born in Tokyo but has lived in Los Angeles most of her life what was the first food she ate when she visited her parents. She didn't hesitate a moment. "Eel!" she said with a big smile. "Grilled fresh water eel."

In Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles I had eaten eel before. I enjoyed it but I usually ordered ramen or sushi. Only when I ordered eel in Japan did I understand what she meant. The sweet-salty glaze perfectly compliments the tender, fragrant, delicate charred meat. Now, when I return to Japan, when I am asked what I want to eat, I say, "Eel!"

Tokyo was built on a swamp. Today in the area surrounding Tokyo and Narita, there are still swampy lands rich with aquatic life, including, of course, lots of fresh water eels.

A culinary specialty in Narita at restaurants like Surugaya, the fresh water eels are kept live in barrels and filleted to cook on fiery hot natural gas or charcoal braziers (Surugaya uses bintochan, high temperature charcoal)

You can't miss the eel restaurants, many of which have their grills facing the sidewalk. The smoke from the charcoal braziers floats across the street enticing diners. Served on freshly steamed rice, with a side course of pickles and clear soup, unagi is addictively delicious.


Eel and flying are so much a part of the character of Narita, the town mascot is Unari-kun, an eel with wings and jet engines.


Another aspect of Japanese culture on display in Narita is the reverence for nature. Walk to the bottom of Omotesando to the Buddhist Temple Naritisan and walk the expansive, well-landscaped grounds. 

Take a moment to purify yourself with smoke from the brazier at the entrance and do your ablutions at the temizusha with bamboo ladles and fresh water.  If you are going to visit Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines on your trip, which you should do, buy a goshuin, to carry with you. At each temple and shrine, you pay a modest fee to have a monk stamp and inscribe your goshuin with beautiful calligraphy.


Allow time to walk around the grounds and inside the temple. The quiet of the park is refreshing and calming. 


TRAVEL WITHIN JAPAN

Flying to either Narita or Haneda International Airports is convenient and easy. Getting to your hotel from either airport is also easy. On my last trip when I landed at Narita, I used the Airport Limousine bus, which was inexpensive, comfortable and modern. 

Travel within Tokyo has been facilitated for English language speakers. The free Tokyo Subway app makes travel around Tokyo easy. Downloaded from the App Store, the app senses where you are. Enter a destination and you are given routes and choices. 

Bilingual signs have also been added to aid English-speaking visitors, When you are in a subway car, the stops are announced over the PA system and electronically in English and Japanese. 

Buying a ticket is a bit tricky, because the Tokyo metro system is a mix of public and private railway lines. At some stations, uniformed, English-speaking guides will help you make a decision about which ticket or day-passes to purchase.

Japan has a very well developed public transportation system. Within the cities there are comfortable buses and subways. Taxis are available but expensive. Uber operates in Japan, but the rates are the same as taxis although that might change, so check.

Travel between cities by the Shinkansen, the bullet train, is fast and efficient. Even though the trains travel at high speed, in your seat you will not have a sensation of the speed. It is best to buy a ticket online well before you intend to travel. Some routes at peak hours are booked. On my last trip, we missed our scheduled train because my flight from Los Angeles was delayed. As a result we had to buy a ticket at the last minute. We stood almost the entire time.


Before boarding, take time to buy a bento box from one of the many food stands at the train station. Nothing passes the time better on a train than a nice Japanese meal and a good book.

LOCAL PRACTICES & CUSTOMS

You do not need electrical adapters because Japan uses the same plugs as used in the U.S.

WiFi is readily available in hotels. Discounted cell service is offered in Japan. Verizon, for instance, offers a flat roaming fee ($5-$10) in many countries around the world, including Japan.

Politness is very important in Japan. People bow to one another when they meet. When business cards are exchanged, the card is offered with the thumb and index finger with both hands, bowing at the same time. If you expect to meet with people on the trip, it is worth bringing business cards with you.

Learning a few Japanese phrases can be helpful. Japanese Up is a useful website for phrases and pronunciations. 

When you meet someone or enter a store or restaurant, "Kon'nichiwa" means "hello."

In a sushi bar if you are sitting at the counter, say "Omakase" which means “I’ll leave it up to you."

"Dōmo arigatō" means "thank you."

"Dōmo arigatō gozaimashita" means “thank you very much."

Japanese culture prizes cleanliness, which is why the bathrooms can be so amazing. The toilets are electronic/mechanical marvels. Some toilets raise their lids when you enter the room. Toilet seats are often heated and the toilets clean you after you do your business. FYI: If you see a faucet on the top of a toilet (below), that water is not for drinking. 


Public bathrooms are cleaned frequently. The Japanese appreciation of cleanliness extends to public spaces. It is uncommon to see litter or graffiti in public spaces. You will also rarely see trash bins. 

When you are out and about, you are expected to dispose of  your own trash. Say you stop for a bakery treat. You enjoy a yummy, sweet red bean mochi (pounded rice pastry). Now there is the matter of the wrapper. Don’t even think about littering. People will yell at you. My suggestion is always carry a small plastic bag in your pocket so you can shove the sticky bakery wrapper into the bag and dispose of the trash back in your hotel room.

Unlike Americans, Japanese rarely eat while they are walking on city streets. 

If you see shoes lined up at the entrance to a restaurant, house or museum, that means you will have to remove your shoes before entering. Which is why when in Japan you should always wear easy-to-remove shoes and wear good socks, without holes.


In restaurants where you leave your shoes before entering the room, you will be requested to wear a pair of slippers supplied by the restaurant. When you go to the restroom, there may be a second pair of slippers. You are expected to slip off the slippers you were given when you entered and slip on the “bathroom” slippers which you will wear while you are doing your business. 

If you stay in a hotel or country inn (ryokan), there will not be a Western style shower where you can luxuriate under steaming water for ten minutes. Instead, in resource-conscious Japan, you will sit on a low stool in front of a faucet with a hand-held showerhead. You will spay yourself with water and then lather with soap before rinsing off. Also, in traditional bathrooms, the water stays on for a brief 10-15 seconds, enough time to rinse off with the showerhead or fill a bucket to pour over your head and body.

The Japanese are very big on gift giving. While you are on your trip, if you are being entertained by a business acquaintance or by a friend-of-a-friend, think about bringing small gifts (not money) as a way to say thank you and good bye. If you are hiring a guide/translator and/or a driver, you will be expected to give a tip. In that case, money is appreciated.

Curiously, at most restaurants napkins will not be provided. You should carry a supply of paper napkins with you.

If you love coffee, you will be mostly out of luck in Japan. You will find exceptionally good tea but not coffee. If you enjoy decaf, you are doubly out of luck. In Japan when decaf is available,  “decaf” is often labeled as “weak coffee.” There are a few Starbucks in Tokyo and they serve very good coffee but you cannot pay with the Starbucks App.

HOTELS AND RYOKAN

If you stay at a ryokan, a Japanese country-style inn, breakfast or breakfast and dinner will be included depending on the package you selected when you booked the room. A word about ryokan, which are not technically hotels, which is why they are not usually rated as 3, 4 or 5 stars. Ryokan come in different sizes and qualities. Some are small, boutique sized, with half a dozen or a dozen rooms. Others are large, with as many as a hundred rooms or more. The accommodations and amenities can be budget or luxury and the room rate will reflect the level of service. Many ryokan have onsen, hot springs baths, with separate men’s and women’s facilities.


Staying in a hotel or inn that has an onsen is a treat. When you check in, you will probably be offered a yukata, a kimono-style gown and slippers to wear in the hotel, in your room and in the public spaces. Kimonos are traditionally made of silk. Yukata are made of cotton. 

Don’t be shy. Accept them happily and ask to be shown how to wear the separate garments that are worn together. Yukata and kimonos are very comfortable. They do not have pockets so be prepared to carry a small bag (usually provided) with your phone, money and ID.


At breakfast, most hotels offer Western style dishes along with Japanese dishes. At very large hotels, Chinese dishes will also be served. Japanese breakfasts are delicious. At a buffet or a breakfast served at the table, you will be offered dozens of choices that can include many kinds of vegetables, pickles, curries, fish, meat, soups, noodles and steamed rice. 

At high-end restaurants serving beef, you will have the opportunity to order Kobe beef. If you eat meat, you should do so. The beef is extraordinarily delicious. But check the price before you order. At celebrity restaurants like the New York Grill at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, an 8 ounce Kobe steak can cost $250.00 U.S. a la carte.

FLYING HOME

When you fly home, on international flights there are usually meals, although the quality in coach can vary from ok to not-so-good. In the U.S. it is customary to ask for a take-away box at a restaurant or buy a to-go container of food to bring on the plane. In Japan, airport restaurants do not usually have take-away boxes.  

Bringing a Ziploc-style sealable container from home might seem overly-fastidious, but if you have ordered a fried chicken plate (karaage) in a restaurant at Narita or Haneda International Airport and they do not have take-away boxes, secure the food in your own plastic container. You will be ever so happy when you are snacking at 35,000 feet and everyone else has many hours to go before they eat again.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Mayura Indian Restaurant - South Indian Home Cooking in Culver City

Tucked away in a mini-mall on the corner of busy Venice Boulevard and Motor Avenue not far from Sony Studios, Mayura Indian Restaurant (10406 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232, 310/559-9644) is a treasure. The restaurant is the love child of Padmini Aniyan and Aniyan Puthampurayil. They moved from Kerala, a state on the Malabar Coast on the southern tip of India to Culver City and created Mayura to share their culinary heritage.


A friend had returned from working in Atlanta for half a year. His text said, "I'm back. Let's eat. Someplace new. And good." Most of the places that fit that description were in DTLA or farther east. I live in the Palisades. Dean lives in Larchmont. So we wanted someplace in between.

I skimmed through my restaurant lists. Nothing new and interesting. I looked online. Nothing looked good. I turned to Jonathan Gold's 101 Best Restaurants (2017). I scrolled and read and scrolled and read through a list of great restaurants. Many were dinner-only. Most were east of where we wanted to meet.

When I reached number 98, I knew I had found what we were looking for. Mayura. Not that it was new. It wasn't. Well-established in the community, the restaurant has been a favorite for more than a decade. I emailed Dean Jonathan Gold's review. He read it and texted, "Ooo sounds great."


After a trip to Malaysia and Singapore, I returned hungry for authentic South Indian food. When I was in Penang, Malaysia we ate many meals every day. We were on a culinary food tour created by the incomparable Muffie Fulton. Her Bold Food offers tours to foodie-fun places around the world (Mexico, Japan, South America, Texas). My favorite meals in Penang were in the South India district at open-air cafes and vegetarian restaurants in the heart of the commercial district.

What I loved was the freshness of the ingredients, the excitement of the spices and the surprise of textures. That's what I missed. That's what I hoped to find at Mayura.

The interior of the restaurant feels like home. Cozy, cluttered, filled with plants and mementos of lives filled with family and smiling customers, the dining room has a row of plush banquettes on the left side, tables running down the middle of the room and a buffet that stretches half the length of the restaurant.


Elegant in a turquoise sari, Padmini Aniyam, the gracious hostess and co-owner, greeted me and everyone who entered with a friendly smile. Aniyan Puthanpurayil waited at the side, directing a waiter to meet me at the table I wanted.

The menu covered the range of classic South Indian dishes. The lists of dishes filled five folio-paged sheets and included paper thin dosas, pancake round uthappams, potato filled samosas, crispy pakoras, donut shaped vadas, dark red tandoori, appetizers, soups, salads, breads, side orders and desserts. There were dishes with meat, chicken and fish. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten free dishes. With so many choices and some dishes I did not know, I was happy to have a friendly waiter willing to help us decide what to order.

I was definitely interested in having a dosa, which I had loved when we ate at Woodlands Vegetarian Restaurant in Penang. I always love biriyani with shrimp or chicken. And the chicken curry looked good. Dean was running late so while I waited I ordered the Paper Dosa, the simplest of the half dozen dosas.

Both Dean and the dosa arrived at the same time. If you haven't enjoyed a dosa before, you are in for a visual treat. A batter is poured onto a hot griddle and cooked quickly. While the flat crisp is still hot, the sheet is rolled up. What arrives at the table is several feet long with a diameter of half a foot. Served with two dipping sauces, we dug in.

Eating dosa is a rare experience. Pieces of the crisp sheets were strong enough to scoop up some chutney. But they evaporate when they hit your mouth. Padmini stopped by to see how we were doing. Which was good. She told us we had to eat the dosa while it was still hot from the kitchen. We were talking too much and not eating fast enough. Within minutes, the crispness disappears so we must eat now and talk later. Good advice. We ate the dosa until there were only a few shards on the plate

She asked why I was taking photographs of the restaurant and the dosa. I explained that I am a food and travel writer. I could say no more. Before we could order from the menu, she walked to the buffet with a waiter and returned with plates of tastings.


She insisted we try the fish curry to be eaten with the light-as-air, gluten free vada. She arrived with a plate of chicken leg tandoori, a platter of chicken curry and fluffy white basmati rice, small metal bowls with half a dozen chutneys and a mixed vegetable pakora.


Each dish was delicious. The tandoori was tender. The spices gave the moist meat an earthly edge. The pakora was light and crispy in every bite. I would never think of ordering fish curry but after a bite of the tender fish wrapped in a piece of the puffy vada, dipped in the light colored curry, I wanted more.


One of my favorites dishes was very unexpected. Usually I am not a fan of okra. Too slimy. Not enough flavor. Not so at Mayura. The okra was simmered with onions and tomatoes. The slices of okra were softened and enveloped with spices. Heat-spicy and tender with a bit of crunch. Heaven. I loved the Bhindi Masala. Padmini asked if it was too hot for my liking. Not at all. We ate dish so quickly, I didn't take a photograph.


On this first visit, we ate from the all-you-can-eat buffet. We never ordered from the menu. All the dishes we ate tasted as if they were freshly prepared, cooked just a moment before they were served to us. That is amazing.

Before we left, we had to take a group photo to commemorate our first visit.


Given the great number of dishes on the menu, I can hardly wait to go back. In fact, we are going back to today!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Best Tasting Dessert You Will Ever Make - Challah Bread Pudding Cake

I love challah, the egg bread traditionally eaten on Fridays for Jewish shabbat. But our family never finishes the entire loaf. The bread is so good, I looked for other ways to enjoy it.


Challah makes great French toast. A slice of dense challah absorbs the frothy egg and milk and still retains it shape. Cooked on a hot carbon steel pan with a pat of butter, the outside gets crusty as the inside stays custard-moist. A drizzle of warm maple syrup on top and we have a delicious breakfast.

So leftover challah is not a bad thing. It's a good thing.

The French toast got me thinking. How else could I use challah? I always loved bread pudding. So why not challah bread pudding?

I could have made the dessert in small cups, but I like to make bread pudding as a cake. The result was spectacular. The easy-to-make dessert is perfect for dinner parties, Oscar watching parties, Super Bowl Sunday, birthdays and anniversaries.

Challah Bread Pudding Cake

At our neighborhood bakery, a full-sized challah loaf weighs 24 ounces. The recipe uses half a loaf to make enough for 8-10 people. If you need to make more for a party, the recipe can be easily doubled or tripled. Whatever you need.



The challah should be day old or even a week old. If you aren't going to make the bread pudding cake for awhile, place the challah into an airtight bag and freeze for up to two months. When defrosting, brush off any ice crystals that may have accumulated on the bread.

For heavy cream, I prefer to use Trader Joe's because there are no additives. The heavy cream I see in markets, even ones that are high-end, has chemicals added.

Buy good quality chocolate without flavorings or nuts. Trader Joe's sells one pound bars of Belgium chocolate that are good. After opening the package, keep unrefrigerated in a sealed bag for freshness. If the chocolate turns chalky, discard.

Use one 9" round baking pan at least 3" tall or two 6" baking pans at least 3" tall. Do not use a spring form pan because it will leak during baking.



The baking pan needs to be at least 1" taller than the amount of batter because the cake will rise as it cooks.

Freezing the buttered, parchment lined baking pan for 15 minutes helps when you remove the cake from the pan after baking. 

So the challah pieces do not get mushy, as quickly as the toasted bread is coated with the custard, pour the mixture into the baking pan. 

Serves 8-10

Time to prepare 30 minutes

Time to bake 60-75 minutes depending on the size of the baking pan and the oven

Ingredients

12 ounces day old challah, torn apart into 2" pieces
1 tablespoon sweet (unsalted) butter
4 eggs
1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1 pint heavy cream, preferably Trader Joe's 
1 cup dark chocolate at least 60% cacao, finely chopped
½ cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped (optional)
¼ cup powdered sugar 
½ cup shaved dark chocolate 

Directions

Preheat oven 350 F.

Place torn up challah pieces on a baking tray. Place in oven for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.


Place the baking pan on a piece of parchment paper, trace the shape of the pan with a pencil and use scissors to cut the parchment paper to size.

Melt butter. Using a pastry brush, paint the bottom and sides of the pan(s) with the melted butter. 

Place parchment paper round(s) onto the bottom of the baking pan. Paint the top of the parchment paper. Place baking pan with parchment paper in freezer for at least 15 minutes.



In a large bowl, with a whisk mix together eggs and sugar. Add heavy cream. Mix well. Add chopped chocolate. Add chopped almonds (optional). Mix together and add toasted challah pieces. Toss well to coat.

Pour into the buttered pan with parchment paper and place in to 350 F pre-heated oven.

Bake 45-60 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Remove and place on a wire rack to cool.



As the cake cools, it will shrink away from the sides of the pan. 

Place your hand over the top, flip over and remove the cake. Flip over so the parchment paper is on the bottom and place on the wire rack.

Once cooled, the cake can be placed in plastic wrap and an airtight plastic bag and refrigerated or frozen. Refrigerated the cake will keep fresh for 2 days. The cake can be kept frozen for up to a month.



Before serving, preheat oven 250 F, remove the parchment paper, place on a baking sheet, place into oven for fifteen minutes. Remove and dust with shaved chocolate and powdered sugar.

Serve warm with cream or ice cream.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Korean Chili Sauce Heats up Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day used to make me nervous. That discomfort began in middle school when we were given sugar hearts with little sayings that we were supposed to give to one another. "Love You." "Cutie." "My Valentine." Fearful of rejection, I didn't give out many hearts. In time, as my confidence grew, candy hearts gave way to fresh flowers and picking romantic restaurants. But I was still nervous.
I embraced Valentine's Day when I learned to cook. By preparing a meal, I could create artful dishes with exciting flavors. By preparing a meal, I could show I cared.

A special meal for a special evening

Google Valentine's Day dishes and the many recipes that pop up for this evening of romance emphasize richly extravagant ingredients or over-the-top sweetness. Kobe steaks with buttery sauces. Truffle rich lobster mac n'cheese. Double-dipped chocolate strawberries. Flourless chocolate cakes dusted with candied pistachios.

All those are great. But heavy. I prefer healthy and full of flavor.

That's where the Korean spicy condiment gochujang comes in. A little bit of spice goes a long way to brighten flavors and stimulate conversation. All chefs know that a few grains of cayenne adds sparkle to any dish. Gochujang does that and more. If pepper sauce can be said to have umami, gochujang has plenty of umami.
A mix of peppers, rice and sugar, gochujang gets its unique flavor from a process of fermentation. I always enjoyed gochujang at Korean restaurants. A trip to a Korean market and I saw dozens of brands and varieties of gochujang, but a quick reading of the ingredient label turned me off. Too many chemical preservatives, additives and chemical compounds.

When I was given a bottle of Chung Jung One Gochujang Sauce, I read the ingredient list. There were no chemicals, no wheat and no animal products only the essentials of red pepper powder, rice, cane sugar, water and rice wine vinegar. A little heat and a little sweet. Perfect.

With a little experimentation, I discovered two very good uses of gochujang. I used gochujang instead of Tabasco to make a Bloody Mary, adding a level of deep, richly flavored umami to that classic cocktail. And, I used gochujang to spice up a comfort food treasure, chicken and dumplings.

Gochujang Bloody Mary

Use a good quality vodka, although its qualities will be masked by the flavors of the seasoned tomato juice. While there are many brands available, I would recommend Chung Jung One's Gochujang Sauce because the ingredients do not include chemicals or preservatives. 

Serves 2 (of course!)

Time to prepare: 5 minutes

Ingredients

4 ounces unflavored vodka, preferably Tito's, Prairie or your favorite premium vodka
8 ounces tomato juice, preferably organic and without preservatives or additives
1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon gochujang, depending on preference
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 pinches freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 lime wedges to garnish
2 celery sprigs with leaves to garnish

Directions

Fill a large shaker with all liquid ingredients. Shake well to mix.

Fill two large glasses with ice. Pour all the mix into the glasses. Place a celery sprig into the glass and a lime wedge on the edge of each glass.

Gochujang Spicy Chicken and Dumplings

Use seasonal vegetables you enjoy. I used string beans, carrots, onions, broccoli leaves and shiitake mushrooms, but shelled English peas, cauliflower florets, celery and turnips would also be good. I would recommend Chung Jung One's gochujang but if that is not available, use another. 
Use homemade chicken stock. Store bought stock has a higher salt content.

Serves 2

Time to prep: 15 minutes

Time to cook: 35 minutes

Total time: 50 minutes

Ingredients for the dumplings

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons gochujang
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup sweet butter, chilled, cut into dime sized pieces
1 cup half and half

  Ingredients

1 cup cooked chicken, cut into dime sized pieces
1/4 cup string beans, washed, ends trimmed off, cut into 1" long pieces
1/4 cup carrots, washed, peeled, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup yellow onion, washed, peeled, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup broccoli leaves julienned or broccoli florets, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions for the dumplings

In a small mixing bowl, mix together all the ingredients. Stir well to break up the butter. Set aside.

Directions

Heat a 6 quart sauce pan on a medium flame. Add olive oil and all the chicken and vegetables. Stir well and sauté 5 minutes.

Add chicken stock. Bring to a simmer.
Make dumplings using two soup spoons and place gently into the simmering stock. After all the dumplings are in the sauce pan, cover and continue cooking 30 minutes.

If the stock boils over, lower the temperature.

Serve hot.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Go Green for Super Bowl Sunday! Cook Easy-to-Make Roasted or Grilled Artichokes

We are planning a Super Bowl Sunday party. My plan is to serve "picnic" food. Carrot salad, potato salad, Little Gem green salad, Persian salad, crispy fried chicken, brown sugar salmon and roasted artichokes.

Super Bowl Sunday food should be fun, delicious and healthy.

Spring is happening and artichokes are showing up in our farmers markets. The dark green vegetable, prized by cooks, is healthy and easy-to-prepare.
Looking at an artichoke, with its hard exterior and sharp pointed leaves makes me wonder how anyone figured out they would be good to eat. With a small amount of effort, that tough looking exterior gives up the wonderfully savory flavor bits at the end of the each leaf.
Choosing a good artichoke

Whether you find one that is the size of your hand or a larger one the size of a soft ball, give it a squeeze. If the artichoke feels solid, you've found a good one. An artichoke past its prime will be squishy like a child's squeeze toy. Make sure all the leaves are green. Don't buy an artichoke with brown or blackened leaves.
Having a sharp pair of scissors or kitchen shears, a pairing knife and a chefs knife will make breaking down the artichoke easy.

Roasted or Grilled Artichokes

One person can easily eat one artichoke the size of your hand. The larger artichokes will feed 2-3 people as an appetizer or a side dish. 

Serves 4

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 30-35 minutes

Total Time: 40-45 minutes

Ingredients

4 medium sized or 2 large artichokes, washed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup sweet butter (optional)
Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Or, set grill (indoor or outdoor) to medium-high.

Place a large stock pot on the stove on a high flame. Add kosher salt. Bring to a low boil. Cover.

To roast the artichoke sections after boiling, cover the bottom of a baking sheet with parchment paper, a Silpat sheet or a piece of aluminum foil. Set aside.

Using scissors trim off the pointy end of each artichoke leaf.

Trim off the stem of each artichoke, flush to the bottom. Discard the stems.

Give each artichoke a flat-top haircut. Place the artichoke on its side. Using a chefs knife, trim off the top 1/4" of each artichoke and discard.

Place the artichoke on the cutting board. Using a chefs knife, cut each artichoke in half, from bottom to the top. Cut each half into two pieces. If the artichoke is large, cut those four pieces in half, creating eight segments.

Working quickly, because the inside of the artichoke will discolor when exposed to air, use a sharp pairing knife to remove the fuzzy part on the inside of each section. Rinse the artichoke sections and discard the fuzzy parts.

Place all the artichoke sections in the boiling salted water. Cover and cook 10 minutes.

Using the pairing knife, test one of the artichoke sections. The knife should easily go into the fleshy part on the bottom of the leaves. If the knife doesn't go in easily, cook another 5 minutes but beware not to over cook the artichokes. They should be firm not mushy.

Place a colander or strainer in the sink. Pour the hot salted water with the artichoke sections into the colander and drain.

Transfer the artichoke sections to a mixing bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Toss well to coat.

If grilling, place the artichokes on the pre-heated grill. Turn frequently to avoid burning. Remove when grill marks appear on all sides.

If baking in the oven, arrange the artichokes on the prepared baking sheet, leaving room between the sections.

Place in the oven and cook 15 minutes. Using tongs, turn the sections over and place back in the oven another 15 minutes so they cook evenly.

Remove the artichokes from the oven and serve hot or at room temperature with sea salt, black pepper and small dishes of melted butter (optional).

If serving with melted butter (optional), melt the butter in a small saucepan being careful to avoid burning.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Cornalin, a Swiss Grape With Big Ambitions

Which Swiss wines do you love? Hands? Anybody? Nobody? Know why? Only 2% of Switzerland’s wine production is exported. All the rest, 98%, is consumed domestically. The best way -- actually, the only way -- to sample Swiss wines is to visit Switzerland. That’s what I did.

The Valais’ Microclimate

Having grown up with images of Switzerland as a land of snow-covered mountains, when I visited the Valais, a wine-growing, French-speaking canton east of Geneva, I expected cold weather. But the climate was better suited to shorts and T-shirts than to parkas.
Neatly trellised vineyards climb up steep hills taking advantage of a hot, dry microclimate. With 300 days of sun a year, the Valais feels like Napa and Sonoma except for the Matterhorn looming in the distance.

In Switzerland, family-owned vineyards and wineries (called vignerons-encaveurs) are the rule. Even if unprofitable, they stay in the family. During a hosted trip we met one wine maker whose family was regarded as a newcomer. They had only worked the vineyard for three generations, while the neighboring farm had been owned by one family for seven generations. Neither winery was self-sustaining. Everyone had a day job.

We tasted dozens of varietals from local vineyards, some with such a small output, customers who lived in the neighborhood consumed their entire production.
The wine most closely associated with the Valais is Fendant a white wine made with the Chasselas grape. But it is a red wine not a white that is making news these days.

Cornalin, the new kid on the block

Twenty-five years ago the Swiss government encouraged farmers to plant improved strains of grapes that were indigenous to Switzerland and to pursue new blends with distinctive qualities. The goal was to expand the export market for Swiss wines.

In the Valais, that led to the improvement of Cornalin, a grape that has been cultivated since the time of the Roman Empire. Used primarily in blends to make inexpensive table reds, the wine was often bottled without appellation or date of production.

Rouge du Pays

Frequently confused with an Italian grape with a similar name, the Swiss variety (Rouge du Pays or Cornalin du Valais) is genetically distinct. In the 1990s the Agroscope Changins-Wädenswi, a federal agricultural agency, funded research to cultivate promising local strains to improve the quality of the grapes and the survivability of the vines. A group of young vintners adopting the appellation Le Coteaux de Sierre planted the new vines. Over time, the acreage in the Valais devoted to Cornalin has expanded.

The wines have a low-tannin, fruity flavor and a dark cherry red color. Helping market wines made with 100% Cornalin grapes, the wineries of the area have enlisted an unlikely champion.

Antoine Bailly is an internationally respected academic and a Nobel Peace Prize winner (Geography, 2012). A native of Switzerland,  Bailly travels the world as a lecturer. These days his passion project is Cornalin.

A Cornalin Museum: Château de Vaas, La Maison des Cornalins
When I toured the under-renovation Château de Vaas, La Maison des Cornalins in the village of Flanthey (Chemin du Tsaretton 46, 3978 Flanthey),  Bailly pointed out details of the building, parts of which were built in the 13th and 16th centuries. Restored at great expense, the building is unique in the area for its history and architectural details. Opened to the public in late August 2014, a photographic tour of the museum is available on a French language web site.
In the tasting room, products from the local wineries can be sampled, along with cheeses and charcuterie from local purveyors. To visualize where the grape is grown,  Bailly created an interactive map with the locations of the Cornalin vineyards in the Valais. Another interactive display with video screens illustrates the cultivation of the grape.

A Temperamental Grape

In the tasting room, with  Bailly leading an animated discussion accompanied with appetizers of local cheeses and slices of beef sausage from Boucherie La Lienne in the village of Lens, we sampled several of the 100% Cornalin wines. Each of us had our favorite. Mine was the Bagnoud Cornalin, Coteaux de Sierra (2012) Rouge du Valais.

Bailly described the grape as difficult to grow and unstable. Slight variations in heat or rainfall can ruin the harvest. Through trial and error, the local vintners have learned how to get the best out of the grape.
So why bother with such a temperamental grape? The answer was pretty direct. The vintners like the wine they’re making with Cornalin. For them, the extra effort and increased risk are worth the result.

Cornalin needs three years in the bottle to mature. With the vintages currently offered for sale, these wines will be at their best just about the time the museum opens.  Bailly invited us all to come back then. In the meantime, we bought bottles of our favorites to bring home. We had become little agents of export for Swiss wines.

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