Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bacon Braised Chicken

Braising is a perfect one-pot, cold weather cooking technique that doesn't take much effort. The resulting meat is fall-off the bone tender. Adding fresh vegetables and herbs completes the dish.

As the braise simmers, the kitchen fills with a warming sweetness, further helping to banish the cold.
Using bacon with it's smoky flavor and good fat content adds even more flavor to the succulent chicken.

For Zesterdaily, I wrote a recipe for Bacon Braised Chicken that is perfect any time of the year, but especially on those cold and damp days when nothing gets you warm.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chocolates! Chocolates! Chocolates!

I am obsessed with chocolates. Milk chocolate. Bitter sweet chocolate. White chocolate. Ok, maybe not white chocolate.
So versatile.  Chocolate goes well with nuts. I've been experimenting with raw and caramelized almonds, hazelnuts and pecans. 

Chocolate with a bit of heat is delicious as well. A touch of cayenne or a  bit of crystallized ginger.
Dried fruit and chocolate are great too. Dried apricots with dark chocolate are a favorite.

CUSTOMIZE CHOCOLATES THE WAY YOU WANT THEM

What's most fun about making chocolates is I can customize them. A friend tried my milk and dark chocolate mini-bar with caramelized almonds and said, "I'd like to try them with just dark chocolate," so that's what he ordered.
Another friend wanted the almonds toasted but not caramelized. 

My wife said, "Use peanut butter" and those have become a big seller.

Email me at davidjlatt@earthlink.net and tell me what you would like and order as many as you want (with a three dozen minimum).

Friday, December 16, 2011

10 Delicious Holiday Recipes

I'm happy to say I published my first cookbook, 10 Delicious Holiday Recipes.
I wanted to create a cookbook with ten easy-to-make recipes perfect for the holidays.
I'd like to hear what you think about the recipes and I would certainly like it if you would buy the book. For $2.99 you get a great collection of cocktails, appetizers, salads, sides, entrees and a couple of dynamite desserts.

I used Amazon and Kindle, but if you don't own a Kindle, no problem. You can download the Kindle App that works for your smart phone, computer or iPad. It's free and downloads easily.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.  Have a great holiday!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chocolate Mini-Candy Bars Make the Best Holiday Gifts

IF YOU DON'T HAVE TIME TO MAKE THE CHOCOLATES, I'LL MAKE THEM FOR YOU

For the holidays I'm serving chocolate mini-candy bars at home and giving them as gifts. They're a lot of fun to make. They taste great and look so cool.
For everyone who doesn't have the time, I'm selling the mini-candy bars with almonds or hazelnuts and peanut butter chocolates. If you don't live in the LA area, I can mail them to you.  You can email me at davidjlatt@earthlink.net. You can customize your chocolates, making them exactly the way you like.


If you want to try your hand at being a chocolatier, I wrote an article for Zesterdaily with easy-to-follow directions.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Milo & Olive, Santa Monica's Newest Restaurant

Huckleberry, Sweet Rose Creamery and Rustic Canyon touched a foodie sweet spot with locals in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. Husband and wife co-owners, Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan proved again and again that they understood what the upscale community wanted: farmers market fresh food served in casually artful settings.
Mid-range pricing means they can afford to use high quality ingredients and indulge their flair for visually engaging food. Walk past Huckleberry's bakery display and you'll be hard pressed not to take a photograph. The scones and muffins are gorgeous.

Their forte is creating exceptionally well-prepared comfort food.
That is definitely the focus of their newest restaurant and bakery, Milo & Olive (310/453-6776) located at 2723 Wilshire Blvd. at Harvard on the border of Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. The bakery is open from 7am-11am. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7am-11pm.

Beginning on December 1st, the restaurant opened for lunch and dinner. We had dinner on day 3 and had the opportunity to talk with Josh Loeb as he moved efficiently around the busy restaurant, supervising staff and talking with customers.

According to Loeb, he and Zoe hadn't planned to open another restaurant.

What they needed was more bakery space. They took over 2723 Wilshire because, Loeb explained, "we needed space for our bread production." Because they had a little more space than they needed, "Then we thought we'd sell pizzas in front." Describing the process he sounded like a home owner doing a remodel that took on a life of its own.

Which explains why the dining room occupies only a third of the space. With a total of 24 seats (8 at the bar and 16 at 2 communal tables), Loeb expects "50% of the business to be take out because the dining space is so limited."

Given the tight quarters, waitstaff and customers have to say "excuse me" a lot as they move around the dining room.

Even with the space constraints, the restaurant works very efficiently. Customers are urged to put in their entire order so the kitchen can pace itself. On our visit, the only slow down happened when a lot of take-out orders hit the kitchen.

High ceilings, the open kitchen and a glass wall at the front of the restaurant give the dining room a spacious feeling. The textured concrete walls extend almost to the ceiling where exposed brick and wooden beams take over, adding to the casual feeling where friends out to grab a pizza, couples on a date or families would be completely comfortable.
To make children feel at home, as they are seated they are offered brown paper bags to decorate with crayons.

The evening we had dinner the blustery Santa Ana winds had died down, leaving behind a cold chill in the air. When the nights are cold, I'd recommend wearing a jacket or sweater because the glass fronted entrance of the restaurant opens directly into the dining area.

Adhering to a no-reservations policy, seating is first come, first serve. You check in upon arrival and wait inside along the glass wall bordering the street. You can order beverages while you wait, spend your time studying the menu, catch up with friends or simply stare at the incredible display of baked goods.

The croissants, muffins, sweet rolls and breads have ceiling lights shinning down on them, giving the culinary stars their moment of stardom before being consumed.

Communal tables aren't everyone's cup of tea.

But the experience can be a lot of fun. Like a dinner party for strangers, we ended up talking with four different groups of people. Maybe it is a sign of the times or a reflection of the demographics of the neighborhood, but everyone at our table was a foodie.

The result was a lively conversation about other restaurants and how they compared to Milo & Olive. Pizza, like hamburgers and barbecue, evokes passionate responses. The pizzas at Stella Rosso in Santa Monica and Nancy Silverton's at Pizzeria Mozza were compared with those arriving at our table.
Our group had lots of opinions about their pizzas, which included a margherita topped with a sunny side fried egg (a $3.00 add-on), a pie with crispy pepperoni and one topped with mixed mushrooms.
The pizzas are medium sized with 4-5 large slices. The consensus at the table was that all the pizzas were fresh tasting and well-seasoned.

The mushroom pizza received high praise for its mix of crispy chanterelles, maitake, beech and oyster mushrooms paired with comforting melted Fontina cheese on the chewy-crisp dough. A sprinkling of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano added the right amount of bite and saltiness.

If you aren't into pizza, you'll still have a lot to choose from at Milo & Olive.

The paired down menu has salads, vegetable sides and a selection of meats and seafood, including a branzino ceviche, fried squid and a ragout of mussels, clams and shrimp as well as several dishes with anchovies.

Meat eaters couldn't go crazy but can order chicken meatballs, sausages and cannellini in beans in broth and braised beef short rib with grits and greens.

Lovers of vegetables will find themselves well-served at Milo & Olive.

Our fellow diners were full of praise for the roasted seasonal vegetables, the marinated green beans with a generous portion of Drake Family Farms goat cheese, the roasted pumpkin in brown butter and sage from McGrath Farms and the mix of lettuces from Coleman farms that arrived piled high on the plate with avocado, pomegranate and pine nut gremolata.
The majority of the pizzas were vegetarian although, again, meat eaters would find enough to keep them happy with the anchovy, pepperoni and pork belly sausage pizzas.

Most dishes cost $10.00-$15.00.  Occasionally a dish struck some at our table as exceptionally small like the $15.00 Aqua Pazza, a petite cast iron dish with mussels, clams and sweet shrimp in a white wine-garlic sauce, accompanied with several slices of grilled bread. The comment was "delicious but on the small side, kind of a tease."

As you would expect from Zoe Nathan, the desserts were well made, visually stunning and delicious.
A poached pear tart with tall flaky crust was very good, as was a lemon curd with mandarine orange sections. A chocolate chocolate tart and a ginger walnut cake were also available. We decided to try the pear tart and lemon curd, which were delicious.
Designed as a casual neighborhood hangout, where you can drop by to pick up a take-out order or stop for a glass of wine or beer, a salad, pizza, dessert and coffee, Milo & Olive is a terrific addition to the West Side dining scene.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Best Post-Thanksgiving Comfort Food: Turkey Dumpling Stew

Usually on Thanksgiving between 20-25 people come over for dinner. This year we had a smaller group. With 15, we had time to talk and there wasn't quite as much work getting the meal ready. Out of habit, though, we bought the same size turkey we always buy, a 25 pounder. So we assumed we'd have a lot of food left over, enough for several days of sandwiches.

When we looked in the refrigerator on Friday, we were surprised that we had very little cranberry sauce, almost no stuffing, and only enough white meat for a couple of sandwiches. But, happily, we did have a lot of dark meat and almost a gallon of turkey stock we'd made Thanksgiving night.

For our day after Thanksgiving dinner, I didn't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen and I wanted a good comfort meal. Dumplings with anything is always great, but with richly flavored turkey stew, there's nothing more satisfying.

Turkey Stew with Dumplings and Vegetables

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

4 cups cooked, shredded turkey dark meat
6 cups turkey stock (fat removed)
2 carrots (washed, peeled, ends removed, chopped into thick rounds)
2 sweet potatoes (cooked, skins removed, roughly chopped)
1 medium yellow onion (peeled, ends removed, roughly chopped)
1 ear of corn (kernels removed) or 1 cup of canned or frozen corn
1 celery stalk (washed, ends removed, roughly chopped)
1/2 cup brown or shiitake mushrooms (washed, thinly sliced)
4 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
1/2 cup Italian parsley (leaves only, finely chopped)
1 small bunch spinach (washed thoroughly, stems removed)
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 - 3/4 cup half and half
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

In a dutch oven or a frying pan with tall sides, sauté the carrots, garlic, celery, mushrooms, onions, corn, and parsley in olive oil until lightly browned. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add the shredded turkey, cooked sweet potatoes, and turkey stock. Simmer. Drop in the spinach and cook for 10 minutes or until the spinach has wilted. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

To make the dumplings, mix together the flour, baking soda, sugar, season with sea salt and pepper in a bowl. Finely chop the butter, add to the flour and mix well. Slowly pour in the half and half, stirring until the batter has a thick consistency. Using 2 spoons, make dumplings and ease them them into the hot liquid.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve with a salad and a baguette.

Variations

Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions or Italian parsley to the dumplings.

Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped roasted red peppers to the dumplings.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes: Turkey, Stuffing, Appetizers, Side Dishes & Dessert

For Thanksgiving we keep it simple. We don't brine our turkey or do anything exotic with seasonings.

Friends and family contribute desserts. Cousin Leslie makes a pumpkin pie. Cousin Ron (hopefully) will make homemade ice cream. Our friends Clay and Lesli are having dinner with another friend this year so we'll miss her mixed berry fruit salad.
I've been making miniature chocolate bars, which I think are very cool, so I'll make those as an addition to the dessert table.

We'll straighten up around the house. I'll finally throw out those stacks of newspapers I wanted to go through.

If we have time, we'd like to find a new tablecloth for the dining room table. But if we can't find one, the old one will do since there will be so many platters of food, plates, glasses and silverware on the table you'll be hard pressed to see the tablecloth anyway.

We'll cover the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil so clean up after the meal is easier. Cleaning out the refrigerator makes room for the turkey after we pick it up from the grocery store and so there's space for all those delicious left-overs after the meal.

Besides shopping at the grocery store we'll visit our local farmers market to pick up fresh vegetables for the sides dishes: beets, sweet potatoes, lettuce, celery, carrots, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, corn, leeks, and onions.

We'll buy an organic turkey and use the neck, heart and gizzard to make stock for the gravy and the liver to make a mushroom-garlic pate.

Even though Thanksgiving is a lot of work, the key is organization. Writing up a menu is the first step, pulling out our favorite recipes, making a shopping list, and finally creating a time-line for the day before Thanksgiving and the day of the meal.

STUFFING, TURKEY AND GRAVY

Corn Bread Stuffing with Sausages, Dried Apricots, and Pecans

The most important part of the meal is the turkey and no turkey is complete without great stuffing.

Over the years my wife has developed a crowd-pleasing stuffing with a contrast of textures: soft (corn bread), spicy (sausage), chewy (dried apricots), and crunchy (pecans).

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 boxes corn bread mix
3 celery stalks, washed, ends trimmed, leaves discarded
1 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, pat dried, finely chopped
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 stick sweet butter
1 1/2 cups turkey or chicken stock
4 Italian style sweet sausages
1 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Make the corn bread the night before and leave the pan on the counter so the corn bread dries out. Use any cornbread mix you like. My wife uses Jiffy. It's inexpensive and tastes great. The instructions are on the box.

Saute the sausages whole in a frying pan with a little olive oil until browned, remove, cut into bite-sized pieces, and set aside. Pour off the excess fat. Add the celery, mushrooms, onion, and garlic into the pan with the stick of butter and saute. Season with sea salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, then add stock and summer 15 minutes.

Cut the cornbread into chunks and crumble into a large mixing bowl. Add the apricots, pecans, and the saute. Stir well and set aside until you're ready to stuff the turkey.

Roast Turkey

The most difficult part about cooking a turkey is size. Even a 15 pound turkey is larger than any roast you'll ever cook, so it's important to have somebody around to help strong-arm the turkey.
The rule of thumb about cooking time is 15-20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees but there are so many variables, you can also use a roasting thermometer and, our preferred method, jiggle-the-leg and if it almost comes off, the turkey's done.

Yield: 20-25 servings

Time: 7-8 hours

Ingredients

1 turkey, 23-25 pounds
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Unwrap the turkey. Remove the packet with the liver, neck, heart, and giblet. Use a pair of pliers to remove the piece of wire that holds the legs. It can be a real pain to get the wire off. Wash the turkey inside and out.  Pat dry on the outside.

Reserve the liver to make a turkey mushroom-garlic pate

Put the neck, heart, and giblet into a large saucepan with a lot of water, at least five inches higher than the turkey pieces. Replenish whatever water boils off. Simmer for 2-3 hours or until the meat on the neck falls off if you touch it with a fork. Strain the stock and reserve to use for gravy. Pull the meat off the neck and save to make turkey soup. Use the giblets in the gravy.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

The next step is easier with a friend. Drizzle olive oil on the outside of the turkey. Using your hands spread the oil over the entire bird, front and back. Sprinkle sea salt and black pepper inside the cavity and on the outside.

To put in the stuffing, either my wife or I holds the turkey upright and steady while the other loosely packs the stuffing inside the large cavity, one handful at a time.

Use 8-12 metal skewers and kitchen string to close the large cavity. Carefully turn the turkey over so you can put stuffing into the top area. Use 6-8 skewers and string to close that cavity.

Use any kind of roasting pan. Whether you use a disposable aluminum foil pan or an expensive stainless steel roasting pan from William Sonoma, the result will be the same. The important thing to remember is the pan must be at least 2" wider than the turkey, otherwise as the bird cooks, its juices will drip onto the bottom of your stove and make a mess. To insure that the turkey browns evenly, you'll need a wire rack.

Place the turkey on the rack, breast down and put into the oven. After 30 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees.

After that, every 30 minutes, baste the turkey with the fat that drips down into the pan. If the skin starts to brown too quickly, put an aluminum tent over the top.

After 3 hours, turn the turkey over. With a large bird this is easier said than done because now the turkey is not only heavy, it's very hot.

Another set of hands is a big help here. My wife and I have choreographed this crucial moment. I lift the roasting pan with the turkey out of the oven, placing it on the cutting board. Michelle stands at the ready with a pot holder in each hand. 

As I lift the rack with the turkey, she removes the pan. I flip the rack with the turkey onto the cutting board, having first put a kitchen towel along the edge to prevent juices from falling to the floor.

We pour all the juices and fat from the pan into a basting bowl, scrapping off the flavor bits on the bottom of the pan to make gravy.

The rack goes back into the pan. The turkey goes onto the rack, breast side up. After a good basting, the turkey goes back in the oven, covered with an aluminum foil tent.

As the turkey continues to cook, if the wing tips and drumstick ends brown too quickly, wrap them in aluminum foil.

Continue basting every 30 minutes. When the turkey is finished, remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes.

Carve the turkey on a cutting board, removing the wings first, then the legs, thighs, and the breasts. Either place the pieces on the platter whole, to be carved at the table, or sliced for easy serving. Open the cavities and spoon out the stuffing.

Mushroom-Giblet Gravy

While the turkey is cooking, start the gravy.

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 medium yellow onions, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 turkey giblet, cooked, grizzle removed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, tarragon, or Italian parsley
1/2 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, finely chopped or sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups turkey stock made with the turkey heart, giblet and neck
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Place the turkey heart, giblet and neck into a large sauce pan and cover with water. Simmer for 3-4 hours or until the neck meat is falling off the bone. Add water as needed to keep the turkey parts covered. Reserve the giblet for the gravy. Pick the meat off the neck for the gravy as well. Discard the heart.

Sauté the giblet, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, and mushrooms until lightly browned. Add turkey stock and the flavor bits you scraped off the roasting pan, simmer and reduce by 1/3. Taste and adjust the flavors. If too salty, add more stock and a pat of sweet (unsalted) butter.

Reheat before serving.

Turkey Stock

When you're eating Thanksgiving dinner, odds are you aren't thinking about your next meal, but I am. 

Admittedly, it's a bit obsessive, but before I sit down to join the dinner, all the bones and scraps go into a large stock pot filled with water. By the time we're clearing the table, the stock is finished.

Turkey stock is rich and flavorful. Perfect for making soups, stews, and pasta sauce, and like chicken stock, freezes beautifully.

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 1 hour
Ingredients

1 turkey carcass, skin, scraps
Water

Method

Put the carcass into a large pot. If any of stuffing makes it into the pot, all the better for flavor and richness. Cover the bones with water. Simmer 1 hour. Strain and refrigerate. Pick the meat off the bones to use in a soup or stew.

The stock keeps in the freezer for six months.

SIDE DISHES

Side dishes need to be flavorful and easy to make.

Everyone has their favorites. Here are ours: Roasted Whole TomatoesArugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, and Avocadoes, Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad, Blackened Peppers with CapersRoasted Brussels Sprouts, and, my new favorite, baked sweet potatoes stuffed with a garlic-mushroom sauté.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Sautéed Shallots, Garlic, and Mushrooms

I prefer sweet potatoes that have a bright orange flesh. Find ones that are slender, appropriate as a single serving. For a dinner party, pick ones that are about the same size.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 2 1/2 hours

Ingredients

4 sweet potatoes, washed, skins on
2 teaspoons sweet butter
1 cup shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
1 cup brown or shiitake mushrooms, washed, dried, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves only, washed, finely chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Cayenne (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap each sweet potato in tin foil, place in the oven, turn every 30 minutes. Depending on your oven and the size of the sweet potatoes, they can take anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. When the sweet potatoes are soft to the touch, they are done.

While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, drizzle olive oil in a frying pan, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and sauté the shallots, garlic, parsley, and mushrooms until lightly browned.

Remove and discard the tin foil. Take a sharp paring knife and slice each sweet potato open the long way. Using your fingers, push the sweet potato in from the ends so the cut section opens like a flower. Add 1/2 teaspoon of butter and a light dusting of cayenne (optional). Top with the shallot-mushroom sauté and serve.

DESSERT

We always have a half dozen desserts, ranging from custards to apple pies with crystalized ginger crusts but my absolute favorite is a light and chocolaty banana cake.

Banana Cake with Chocolate Chips and Walnuts

For a festive presentation we use a castle mould and dust the top with powdered sugar to give the cake a happy snowy look.
Yield: 8-10 servings
Time: 90 minutes

Ingredients

4 ripe bananas
1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sweet butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup half and half or 1 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 cups white flour
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and paint the inside of a 9 x 3 round cake pan, then put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. (The frozen butter prevents the batter from sticking to the pan.) On a cookie sheet bake the walnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes or so; let cool, roughly chop, and set aside.

In a bowl mash the bananas with a fork, add the baking soda and vanilla. stir well and set aside. In a mixer use the whisk to cream together the softened butter and both sugars. Add the eggs, mashed bananas, half and half (or cream) and whisk until blended. Mix in the flour half a cup at a time, being careful not to over-beat. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a rubber spatula to blend in the walnuts and chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the buttered cake pan; it will only fill the pan half-way.

Bake the cake in a 350 oven for 60-70 minutes, turning the pan every 20 minutes so the cake cooks evenly.  Test to see if the cake is done by inserting a wooden skewer. If the top is browning too quickly, lightly lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top. When the skewer comes out clean, take the cake out of the oven and place on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan, putting it back on the wire rack to finish cooling.

Just before serving, dust the top with powdered sugar and shaved chocolate. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

Ready, Set, Infuse - It's Time to Make Homemade Umeshu, Japanese Plum Wine

If you love umeshu , Japanese plum wine, and you want to make your own, the race is on. Ume are only available for three-four weeks in the ...