Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sqirl

For a few years now I have been reading food writers and blogs literally scream praises for Jessica Koslow's hand crafted Sqirl preserves. Trained in high end restaurants. Koslow started peddling her homemade jams at local farmer's markets and those rave reviews somehow converged into a let's say compact East Hollywood/ Silverlake cafe.
As a fervent amateur jelly maker I've been wanting to taste what all the fuss was about and one recent morning I stumbled over to try.
Despite an interesting and fairly extensive (for the size of the kitchen and compact dining room) menu and a shockingly beautiful, elegantly rustic selection of baked goods (Koslow was once employed as a pastry chef in Atlanta's Bacchanalia restaurant) the most famous dish at Sqirl is toast. Fluffy brioche toast and a choice of jam. The bread is airy. Not heavy with eggs and sugar as brioche can be but almost spongy with deep brown toasted crust. Swirl offers a selection of jam flavors each day and because I seemed interested the bubbly gal behind the counter brought me a tasting spoon of each one on offer. The cranberry bourbon and raspberry vanilla to me were fine I'd stack any of my homemade flavors against them and come out ahead I think. But, the blueberry rhubarb (pictured on the toast above) and strawberry rose geranium literally burst with fruit flavor. An addictive blend of sweet and acidic these preserves, despite their oddly loose texture, sparkled in a way that made me determined to make mine better. I can taste what the fuss is about.

The subject of nearly as many poetic reviews as her jams are Sqirl's breakfast rice creations. Savory or sweet, these combinations seem like a chef's very sophisticated take on leftovers. I can almost picture Koslow, fridge handle in hand, thinking . . .  maybe a touch of pesto . . .  where was that feta cheese and . . . oh yes topped with an egg. The kokohu rose rice bowl I ordered had kind of a spontaneity to it. I'm sure it didn't but it felt like a dish that just happened. A -- for lack of a better description -- what I want to eat right now kind of feeling.
I love rice. I often scramble it with eggs for breakfast and if we've had spaghetti recently I might toss in a dollop of pesto or charred tomatoes. Swirl's sorrel petso is flavorful and herby and not cluttered with cheese (as mine often is). Tasty, but again the preserves are the star of this dish. I might have described this breakfast combination as fine or not especially memorable if not for the super vibrant, puckery preserved lemon condiment served on top. I would happily order that by the bucketful.
The dining room is micro at best. Though tables sprawl down the sidewalk you'll likely have to wait for a place to sit and from what I've seen the line to order can sprawl dozens deep. This isn't fast food by any means. But if you have the time to linger Sqirl is certainly worth the visit. I'll go back for certain.




Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Joan's On Third

I didn't want to like Joan's On Third. Nearly an institution in LA, for years I avoided the take-out spot and casual eatery in spite of -- or probably because of -- it's popularity. How could I feel I'd found a hidden treasure when everyone knew about this one?
A couple months back I arrived early for an appointment just across the street from Joan's (early morning and parking was plentiful) and slipped in for a coffee and a, okay I admit it, delicious blueberry cornbread muffin.
The parking is nothing short of tragic. The multiple counters and cashiers is confusing. The market products are absurdly expensive. Though I spent $26 for Italian torrone I somehow couldn't resist. But, I love Joan's. If I had a restaurant it's the kind of place I'd like to have. Hearty sandwiches with finesse, a huge variety of read or serve entrees, salads and sides (pasta, meatballs, lentils, meatloaf, roasted vegetables, brussels sprouts -- a generous list every day ), pastries, ice cream, a cheese counter, soups to go. Simple rustic food, well prepared for a beautiful people clientele who looks like they never eat. Oh, and the bread!
The ordering system is chaotic. There is always a line. There is barely room to walk through the one winding aisle. But, I love the metal baking tray and pie plates Joan's uses for serving (can I do that at home?).  I love the oversized farmhouse table right in the middle of the refrigerator cases. I love the bottles of water the cheerful servers bring to the table. I love Joan's but I'll never tell.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Homemade Christmas 2014

Fabric, ribbons and several cases of mason jars littering my friend Shari's table as we churn out more than 20 batches of nut brittle (cashew, macadamia, and pistachio). With the brittle packed inside waiting jars we started to experiment with combinations and bows. Shari is an excellent bow tie -er. Nearly 10 hours later (no joke) we had an army of jars ready to deliver.
Packed in the back of my car, every time I hit the brakes I can hear the faint ringing of jingle bells. It's like driving the sleigh.
Tomorrow I start deliveries.
Merry Christmas to all!



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Din Tai Fung, Again


There was palpable excitement in the food centric corners of LA when an outpost of the venerated Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung opened in the area back in the early 2000s. An immediate success, it wasn't too long before DTF opened a second "fancier" (and bigger) spot just around the corner from the original shop in Arcadia. Last year the chain expanded again -- further from a steady East Asian clientele into Glendale -- in the high end Americana mall. Settled in among Kate Spade and Tiffany's, DTF now caters to busy shoppers and offers an alternative (and valet parking) to area diners looking for something other than the excellent middle Eastern and so-so chain restaurants already in the area.
Fifteen years ago DTF was not my favorite dumpling spot and it still isn't. In general I prefer a thin rice paper wrapper to sturdier wheat. But really there is nothing wrong with the chain's dumplings and I've eaten them in Arcadia, Shanghai (under protest), and now Glendale. It seems that the new location has tried to refine their dishes and service to make new customers more comfortable. My Steamed rice pork bun -- usually served wrapped in a leaf and tied with kitchen twine came to the table unwrapped and naked on a plate. Not flavored with pungent Chinese sausage, but filled with a not too chili braised pork. Fine but not special. 
Though I have rarely ventured from the soup dumplings at DTF today I opted for pork and shrimp wontons in spicy sauce. I'm not sure I'd call the sauce spicy even by white folks standards but I liked it. I'd go back for more. And soup dumplings -- you can order a half order which is nice for a smaller crowd to try different flavors -- were, as always, dependable.
Dumplings have come a long way since the only place to get quality xiao long bao in LA was at a small collection of sticky table dives in the SGV and honestly I still prefer the slightly lesser known outposts -- if for nothing else than my eater's pride. It's hard to trade fantasies of Chinese grandmothers' work hardened hands deftly rolling delicate dough for the plate glass window view of very Western college kids wearing chef's jackets in Glendale. But when a lengthy drive isn't in the cards and your dinner companion might want a glass of wine with wontons -- DTF might just be the place.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Farming For The Future

 Just before the rain, preparing for summer cattle our front pasture has been disked, seeded and dragged. We've planted alfalfa to bale and to feed our visiting beef herd in warm weather.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sweets Of The Season

It's a pie time of year. Thanksgiving is a pie holiday and it ushers in a season of sugarplums and Christmas cookies.
Despite what may have been a pie overload on turkey day -- when friends came to lunch the last of our precious tree's apples became a flaky sweet dutch apple crumb pie. I love the holidays.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Keeping The Holiday Going

A simple treat for our seafood holiday. A memory from my childhood. Fried oysters. My Grandma used to call them (as did everybody around our parts back then) "padded" describing the way the crunchy coating clung to the briny bivalve. Her's were dipped in egg and rolled in cracker crumbs. I still like them that way. Mine, mostly a product of oysters at the store and what was in the pantry, were soaked in buttermilk, paprika, and a hint of cayenne for about 15 minutes (I was low on eggs and had a splash of buttermilk left in the bottle to use up). Then I tossed the still wet oysters in a half flour half cornmeal mixture (seasoned with S&P and a hint of garlic powder) and lowered them into hot oil. After a couple minutes on each side they were golden brown and ready to rush to the table -- with for a seasonal turn -- homemade cranberry cocktail sauce. Crispy, hot, salty, delicious. Just like I remember.