UP IN MAINE WE THROW A LOT OF DINNER PARTIES.  ON THIS PARTICULAR OCCASION, THE GUEST LIST EXPANDED FROM EIGHT TO TEN AND I FEARED WE WOULDN’T HAVE ENOUGH BEETS FOR THE FIRST COURSE SALAD.  WE HAD FRESH-PICKED CARROTS FROM A LOCAL FARM, SO I POACHED THEM IN OLIVE OIL, MADE A DRESSING AND TOSSED THE PRE-ROASTED BEETS AND CARROTS WITH ORANGE ZESTS.  ONCE NESTLED IN A BED OF ARUGULA I DOTTED THE SALADS WITH FRESH CHEVRE, CREAMY BUT SHARP, TO OFFSET THE SWEETNESS OF THE ROOT VEGETABLES.  IF YOU ARE SERVING THIS SALAD FOR LUNCH, WITH ONLY A BAGUETTE, YOU HAVE AN ENTIRE MEAL.

BEETS, CARROTS AND CHEVRE

ARBAT GROCERY

ARBAT IS AN ARMENIAN GROCERY STORE ON THE CORNER OF ALEXANDRIA AND HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, ALTHOUGH “GROCERY STORE” IS A MISNOMER BECAUSE ARBAT PACKS A SUPERMARKET’S-WORTH OF PRODUCE, CHEESES, MEAT, FRESH FRUIT, GRAINS, PASTA, BREAD, COOKING OILS, PRESERVES, AND DAIRY ITEMS INTO A TINY SPACE.  IT MAY FEEL LIKE A GROCERY STORE BUT IT DELIVERS LIKE A SUPERMARKET.

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ARBAT IS EMPHATICALLY ARMENIAN.  I’D BEEN BUYING FETA THERE FOR SEVERAL MONTHS.  ARBAT HAS ABOUT EIGHT DIFFERENT FETAS INCLUDING MY FAVORITES, BULGARIAN AND FRENCH, RANGING IN PRICE FROM $3.99 TO $6.99.  BUT MANY OF THE SALESPEOPLE ONLY SPEAK ARMENIAN AND I WAS VIEWED WITH SUSPICION.  IT TOOK A WHILE TO GET A SMILE FROM ANYONE IN THE STORE.

THEN I BEGAN TO NOTICE WHAT WAS IN THE STORE.

LAMB NECK, WHICH MAKES THE BEST LAMB STEW AND IS NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND.  QUAIL, SEASONED WITH SALT, PEPPER AND PAPRIKA.  HUNGARIAN SLAB BACON AND A WIDE VARIETY OF CHEESES AND SAUSAGES MOST OF WHICH I DIDN’T RECOGNIZE.  OLIVES, OLIVES, OLIVES.  FRESHLY-BAKED LAVASH, A SHEET-LIKE FLATBREAD, BLISTERED, THIN AND FOLDABLE.  A LOT OF THE PRODUCE, PARTICULARLY THE FRUIT, IS LOCALLY-SOURCED.  IN SEASON, YOU’LL FIND FRESH GREEN ALMONDS, GRAPE LEAVES, DATES, FRESH FIGS, PURSLANE, AND DANDELION GREENS.  GO ON TUESDAY OR FRIDAY AFTER 12 FOR GLISTENING BUNCHES OF FRESH TARRAGON, DILL, ITALIAN PARSLEY, CILANTRO, GREEN OR OPAL BASIL.  THERE ARE BINS OF SPANISH, BROWN, AND PEARL ONIONS.  THE CUCUMBERS ARE PERSIAN, SMALL AND PERFECT.  IF YOU’RE LAZY, PICK UP A PLASTIC CONTAINER OF PEELED, WHOLE GARLIC CLOVES.

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AT THE BACK OF THE STORE IS A DAIRY CASE WHERE IN ADDITION TO PRÉSIDENT AND LURPAK BUTTER, THERE ARE BUTTERS WITH CYRILLIC LETTERS, FARMER CHEESE, YOGURT, LABNE, AND TAN.  SQUEEZE AROUND A CORNER AND YOU’RE FACING A CASE WITH MORE FETAS AND CHEESES PLUS PACKAGED SMOKED SALMON AND STURGEON.  THERE ARE FROZEN PELMENI AND FROZEN FILO DOUGH.

IF YOU’VE GOT A SWEET TOOTH YOU’VE COME TO THE RIGHT PLACE.  BOXES AND BOXES OF CHOCOLATES, CARAMELS, AND BRITTLE.  BINS OF DRIED ALMONDS, WALNUTS, PECANS, APRICOTS, AND FIGS.

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HOW ABOUT THE PRICES?  I THOUGHT YOU’D NEVER ASK.  ROUGHLY 25% TO 40% LESS THAN GELSON’S OR WHOLE FOODS.  DRISCOLL RASPBERRIES AND BLUEBERRIES ARE NEARLY HALF THE PRICE.  A ONE-POUND BLOCK OF FETA COSTS $7.49 AT WHOLE FOODS;  $3.99 AT ARBAT.  LURPAK BUTTER:  $7.79 AT WHOLE FOODS; $4.99 AT ARBAT.  AT $4.99/BUNCH FRESH TARRAGON IS ARBAT’S PRICIEST FRESH HERB BUT IS EQUAL IN QUANTITY TO FOUR MEASLY BUNCHES AT THE HOLLYWOOD FARMERS MARKET.

I HEARD RECENTLY FROM SOMEONE IN THE SUPERMARKET BUSINESS THAT TO A CERTAIN EXTENT FOOD PRICING IS ARBITRARY.  PRICES ARE GAUGED TO THE CUSTOMER BASE.  IF YOU LIVE IN BEVERLY HILLS YOU PAY MORE FOR YOUR FOOD BECAUSE YOU CAN AFFORD IT AND DON’T PAY MUCH ATTENTION TO THE PRICES.  BUT WHEN WAITING IN LINE AT THE CHECKOUT COUNTER AT ARBAT, I WATCH OLD LADIES DOLING OUT NICKELS AND PENNIES FROM THEIR CHANGE PURSES TO PAY FOR THEIR LAVASH, FETA, OLIVES, DATES, AND PERSIMMONS.  AND WHEN IT’S MY TURN, THE CASHIER, A VERY PRETTY WOMAN WHOSE HAIR COLOR CHANGES EVERY FEW MONTHS, SMILES AT ME AND EVEN SAYS, “HELLO!”

SHOPPING ALERT

EXCITING NEWS FOR YOU WEST SIDE COOKS:  McCALL’S MEAT AND FISH OPENED A SHOP IN SANTA MONICA ON JANUARY 26th.  THIS IS THE ONLY PLACE I BUY FISH AND MOST OF MY MEAT.  THE NEW STORE IS A BIT SMALLER THAN THE ONE ON HILLHURST BUT IS PACKED WITH FARMERS MARKET FRUITS AND VEGETABLES, CHEESES, BREAD AS WELL AS AN EXCELLENT SELECTION OF OILS, VINEGARS, PASTA, VARIOUS GRAINS, AND SALUMI.  IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO VISIT THE SHOP, PUT AN ORDER IN ONLINE AND HAVE IT DELIVERED BY MERCATO, WHICH SPECIALIZES IN SMALL STORE DELIVERIES.  

McCALL’S MEAT AND FISH

1426 MONTANA AVENUE

CA 90403

(310) 393-1225

A FEW KIND WORDS ABOUT RISOTTO

EVERYBODY LOVES PASTA.  EVERYBODY COOKS PASTA.  MOST PEOPLE LOVE RISOTTO.  FEW PEOPLE COOK RISOTTO.  WHY IS THAT?  THIS BURNING QUESTION HAS PUZZLED FOOD WRITERS AND GASTRO-HISTORIANS FOR CENTURIES.  YET THE ANSWER IS OBVIOUS:  PRACTICALLY EVERY RECIPE FOR RISOTTO DIRECTS THE COOK TO STAND AT A HOT STOVE, STIRRING AND ADDING INCREMENTAL QUANTITIES OF STOCK UNTIL THE ARBORIO RICE BECOMES PERFECTLY AL DENTE AND FIT TO SERVE.  THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE!  I ONCE ASKED EVAN KLEIMAN, JAMES BEARD WINNER, AUTHOR OF EIGHT VOLUMES ON ITALIAN COOKERY, MODERATOR OF GOOD FOOD ON KCRW, AND FORMER RESTAURANTEUR (TRATTORIA ANGELI AND ANGELI CAFFE) HOW HER RESTAURANT HANDLED RISOTTO ORDERS IF EACH TOOK 40 MINUTES TO PREPARE.  “OH, WE PARTIALLY COOK THE RISOTTOS IN THE MORNING AND SPREAD THEM ON SHEET PANS.  WHEN AN ORDER COMES IN WE SCOOP OUT THE PORTION, PUT IN THE POT AND STIR IN THE LIQUID TO FINISH THE DISH.  TAKES ABOUT TEN MINUTES.”  AND THAT IS HOW I’VE COOKED RISOTTO EVER SINCE.  I SWEAT MY VEGETABLES IN A LITTLE OLIVE OIL AND A GENEROUS GLOB OF BUTTER, STIR IN THE RICE, ADDING ABOUT 3 CUPS OF LIQUID.  I STIR IT WITH A WOODEN FORK TO SEPARATE THE GRAINS AND WHEN IT REACHES A BOIL, I TURN OFF THE HEAT AND COVER IT.  WHEN MY GUESTS ARE FINISHING THEIR FIRST COURSE, I RESUME COOKING, ADDING MORE BROTH UNTIL THE RISOTTO IS AL DENTE AND LIQUIDY.  A HUNK OF BUTTER AND A FEW TABLESPOONS OF PARMESAN STOP THE COOKING.  RISOTTO MILANESE IS OSSO BUCO’S CLASSIC ACCOMPANIMENT, BUT WHATEVER RISOTTO YOU CHOOSE TO MAKE (AND THERE AS MANY RISOTTO RECIPES AS THERE ARE RECIPES FOR PASTA) THE TECHNIQUE IS THE SAME.  THERE!  YOU CAN MAKE RISOTTO NOW AT PEACE IN YOUR VERY OWN HOME.

https://johnpleshettemealoftheweek.com/recipes/risotto-milanese/

 

WHY I LOVE MY WOK

SIX MONTHS AGO I BOUGHT A WOK, A REAL CARBON STEEL FLAT-BOTTOMED WOK WITH A WOODEN HANDLE.

AS MUCH AS I LOVE CHINESE FOOD, I’VE ALWAYS BEEN TIMID ABOUT COOKING IT:  A) BECAUSE THERE’S SO MUCH GOOD CHINESE FOOD IN LOS ANGELES AND B) BECAUSE IT MEANT STOCKING MY PANTRY WITH A WHOLE LOT OF INGREDIENTS I DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE.  SO I STARTED OFF SLOWLY, TIP-TOEING INTO CHINESE COOKING WITH GREEN VEGETABLES, MOSTLY SPINACH, CHARD, BROCCOLI, AND CABBAGE.  WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT MY WOK  IS THAT IT’S BIG.  YOU CAN THROW IN TWO WHOLE BUNCHES OF SPINACH AND TOSS THEM WITH SOME GARLIC, FRESH GINGER, CHILES, ET VOILA! OR WHATEVER ITS EQUIVALENT IN MANDARIN.  DESPITE A DISASTROUS ATTEMPT AT TEMPURA (NOT CHINESE), MY VEGETABLE SUCCESSES EMPOWERED ME.  FACED WITH A POUND’S-WORTH OF LEFTOVER PORK CHOPS, A PALE PURPLE CHINESE CABBAGE, LOTS OF SCALLIONS, A HUNK OF FRESH GINGER, AND AN UNOPENED JAR OF GARLIC/BLACK BEAN PASTE, I DUG OUT MY COPY OF THE THOUSAND RECIPE CHINESE COOKBOOK BY GLORIA BLEY MILLER, PUBLISHED BY RANDOM HOUSE IN 1966!  BEHOLD, 300 PAGES (PAGES NOT RECIPES) OF STIR FRY DISHES.  AS DAUNTING AS THAT SEEMED, THE BASIC TECHNIQUE WAS THE SAME FOR ALL OF THEM.  IN CHINESE COOKING, WHERE THOUSANDS OF DISHES ARE PREPARED IN THIS ONE REMARKABLE VESSEL, THE COOKING IS IN THE PREP; YOU SPEND MOST OF YOUR TIME SLICING AND DICING.  YOUR MIS-EN-PLACE IS YOUR DISH OR WILL BECOME YOUR DISH WITH ONLY A FEW MINUTES OF ACTUAL COOKING.  AND MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, IT WORKED!

https://johnpleshettemealoftheweek.com/recipes/chinese-style-stir-fried-pork/

LINK TO MY WOK https://www.amazon.com/gp/buyagain/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_bia?ie=UTF8&ats=eyJjdXN0b21lcklkIjoiQTNHSDJCWE5YSjAwSkMiLCJleHBsaWNpdENhbmRpZGF0ZXMiOiJCMDg0%0ARk1LVFk2In0%3D%0A

UNICORN
THE WORLD'S BEST PEPPER GRINDER

UNICORN PEPPER MILLS ARE APTLY-NAMED BECAUSE THEY ARE RARE AND HARD TO FIND.  YOU WON’T SPOT THEM AT WILLIAMS-SONOMA, SUR LA TABLE OR IN THE KITCHEN SECTIONS OF DEPARTMENT STORES.  THIS IS BECAUSE THEIR INVENTOR TOM DAVID, WHOSE FIRST PRODUCT OF THIS TYPE WAS THE PEPPERGUN (A ONE-HANDED GRINDER SINCE DISCONTINUED), DOESN’T CARE ABOUT HOW MANY UNICORNS HE SELLS.  ACCORDING TO ONE OF HIS THIRTY OR SO ADORING EMPLOYEES, MR. DAVID IS A SUCCESSFUL INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER, WHO LIVES AND WORKS ON NANTUCKET ISLAND WHERE THE UNICORN FACTORY IS LOCATED.  “HE DOESN’T CARE ABOUT MONEY, SO HE DOESN’T CARE ABOUT WIDELY MARKETING HIS PEPPER MILLS,” SHE TOLD ME.

UNICORN PEPPER MILLS COME IN SEVERAL SIZES BUT I’M PARTICULAR TO THE MAGNUM,WHICH STANDS FIVE AND A HALF INCHES HIGH AND IS TWO INCHES IN DIAMETER.  UNLIKE THE IT’S TALLER AND HOUR-GLASS-SHAPED COUSIN LE PEUGOT,  THE SQUATTER UNICORN IS NEARLY UNTIP-ABLE WITH A GREATER STORAGE CAPACITY.  THE PEUGOT’S GRINDER MECHANISMS ARE NOW MADE IN CHINA.  UNICORN HAS EMPLOYED THE SAME ITALIAN-MADE TRES SPADE GRINDERS SINCE 1986 WHEN THEIR PEPPER MILLS FIRT TIP-TOED INTO THE MARKET.  TRES SPADE HAS BEEN MANUFACTURING QUALITY METAL PRODUCTS SINCE 1864.

THE UNICORN MAGNUM IS A BREEZE TO FILL.  LAY IT ON ITS SIDE AND TWIST TO OPEN THE AMPLE HOPPER FOR THE PEPPERCORNS.  THE GRIND ADJUSTS EASILY AND ACCURATELY.   I CALLED THE FACTORY DIRECTLY TO SPECIAL ORDER A SECOND MILL FOR WHITE PEPPER, WHICH CAME WITH A DISCREET WHITE BAND SO I CAN TELL THEM APART.

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THE UNICORN IS ALISON ROMAN’S MILL OF CHOICE AS WELL AS JOSEF CENTENO’S.  IF ITS’ GOOD ENOUGH FOR THEM, IT SHOULD BE GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU!

http://www.unicornmills.org

McCALL'S REDUX

IN JANUARY OF 2010 KAREN AND NATHAN McCALL OPENED THEIR NAMESAKE BESPOKE BUTCHER SHOP ON HILLHURST.  THE COUPLE HAD CHEFED AT SONA, DAVID MYER’S MICHELIN-STARRED RESTAURANT ON LaCIENEGA, WHICH CLOSED IN MAY THE SAME YEAR.

CHEF JOHN SPEAKS

Version 2

what we cooked and ate in maine

APOLOGIES FOR MY LONG ABSENCE, BUT WE WERE IN MAINE, WHERE WE HAVE BEEN GOING EVERY SUMMER FOR 35 YEARS STAYING WITH LYNN’S FRIEND LIZ WHOM SHE FIRST BEFRIENDED IN JUNIOR HIGH.  THE RANGELY LAKES WESTERN MAINE, NOT FAR FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE BUT A TWO-AND-A-HALF-HOUR DRIVE FROM PORTLAND IN THE TINY TOWN OF OQUOSSIC.  THE HOUSE — ORIGINALLY A FISHING AND HUNTING CAMP — SITS RIGHT ON THE LAKE MOOSELOOKMEGUNTIC, WHERE ALL YOU CAN SEE FROM LIZ’S DECK IS ONE HOUSE ON THE FAR SHORE.  EVERY SUMMER, AFTER THE DRIVE FROM PORTLAND, I WALK OUT ONTO LIZ’S DECK AND THE FIRST THING I HEAR IS..SILENCE.  JUST THE OCCASIONAL ULULATING LOONS OR A PASSING FLIGHT OF CANADA GEESE.  THERE ARE BALD EAGLES, OTTERS, PLENTY OF DEER, AND, IF YOU’RE LUCKY, MOOSE.

UNLIKE L.A., THE WEATHER HERE CHANGES DAILY, SOMETIMES HOURLY.  THUNDERSTORMS SWEEP ACROSS THE LAKE, YIELDING TO BRILLIANT SUNSHINE AND THE GIFT OF A RAINBOW.  IT CAN CLIMB INTO THE NINETIES IN JULY.  BY SEPTEMBER WE’RE PILING BLANKETS ON OUR BED.

WHEN WE WERE A COUPLE OF DECADES YOUNGER WE DID A LOT OF HIKING, SAILING, AND CANOEING.  WE STILL WALK THE ROAD WHICH IS A MILE AND A QUARTER FROM THE ROUTE 16, BUT OUR PRINCIPAL ACTIVITIES REVOLVE AROUND FOOD;  MORE GATHERING THAN HUNTING, PREPARING IT, CONSUMING IT, CRITIQUING IT, AND DEBATING WHAT TO EAT NEXT

MUSSELS
SWORDFISH SICILIANA

.

THOSE OPTIONS HAVE MULTIPLIED TENFOLD IN 35 YEARS.  THE BIG DIFFERENCE IS THE PROLIFERATION AND AVAILABILITY OF PRODUCE FROM THE LOCAL FARMS.  EVEN THE FARMER’S DAUGHTER IN OQUOSSIC NOW STOCKS ITS SHELVES WITH LETTUCES, POTATOES, TOMATOES, ONIONS, SQUASH, CUCUMBERS, EVEN CHANTERELLES GROWN OR FOUND WITHIN FEW-MILE RADIUS.

BLUEBERRY HILL
GRASSHOPPER HILL

JOSH PARKS THE HIGH-TIDE, LOW-TIDE FISH TRUCK IN RANGELY TWICE A WEEK WHERE EVERYONE LINES UP FOR ATLANTIC  COD, HALIBUT, FLOUNDER, MONKFISH, SCALLOPS, STEAMERS, MUSSELS, AND, YES, LOBSTERS.

WE’RE NOT THE ONLY GUESTS.  BUT I AM THE PRINCIPAL CHEF, MAKING MOST OF THE MEALS WITH ABLE SOUS-CHEF LIZ AND DESSERT CHEF LYNN.

 I NEVER DO DISHES.

BANANA CREAM TART
CHEF JOHN AND MADAM

LIZ HAS WONDERFUL EAST-COAST SUMMER FRIENDS, WHO OWN HOUSES IN THE AREA.  THEY’RE A SMART, CULTURED, POLITICALLY-ENGAGED BUNCH, WHO’VE BECOME OUR FRIENDS, TOO.

HIRAM         JANE                                              GUIDO             LIZ           SUSAN

OVER THE YEARS WE’VE GONE AT DIFFERENT TIMES THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER.  WE’VE HAD HOT JULYS, RAINY AUGUSTS AND SEPTEMBERS WHERE WE LIGHT A FIRE IN THE LIVING ROOM.  LYNN AND LIZ DO JIGSAW PUZZLES.  I READ.  WE WATCH TELEVISION THE NIGHTS WE’RE NOT ENTERTAINING OR BEING ENTERTAINED.  WE TAKE OCCASIONAL TRIPS TO PORTLAND, VISIT THE MINERAL MUSEUM IN BETHEL, A NEARBY BUFFALO FARM, THE WILHEM REICH MUSEUM IN OQUOSSIC.  WE TRY NEW RECIPES — BIALYS!  ALTHOUGH I’M HAPPY TO COME HOME, I’M NEVER HAPPY TO LEAVE.  THERE SIMPLY IS NOTHING QUITE LIKE “THE LEDGES”.  

recent recipes

ARBAT GROCERY

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