Wednesday, January 13, 2010
It all started with a food coma following a particularly filling Christmas dinner. In attempts to get over the monumental hump, I started browsing food blogs while licking the corners of my lips for any last remaining traces of pineapple ham glaze.
As I was living vicariously through a few jetsetters' reviews of exotic restaurants (Luxeat and KevinEats are some of the best in the biz), I came across a post by FoodGPS . As it turns out, Josh will be judging a Panini-Off hosted by Coral Tree Cafe. Interesting...
Better yet, the contest was still open, score! Because the deadline were mere days away, I hastily scribbled down what I considered to be the perfect sandwich—an easy task as I was recovering from one of the best meals to date.
I started out with a nice rustic bread (buttered of course). Then I added a earthly saute of crimini mushrooms scented with garlic. Next came the black forrest ham and a sprinkle of rosemary needles from my parent's herb garden (you won't find them buying overpriced herbs at the local grocery store). Then a "glaze" sauce (secret recipe, shh) to simulate the complex, crackly sugar jacket worn by our family's holiday ham. Lastly, some mild swiss to hold all the components together.
Not thinking much about it, I submitted my recipe and promptly forgot about the contest. That is, until I got an unknown call from the friendly people representing Coral Tree. He congratulated me on making to the finals and asked if I wanted to make a panini—on the KTLA Morning Show as a promo for the real competition on the 19th.
How do you say no to that?
And so, I woke up at an ungodly hour, 5:30a last Thursday and drove over to Hollywood for my close up. Two other finalists arrived shortly after and we met the judges of the day: Los Angeles Fire Chief and several other fire fighters. Before long, the cameras came and we had a little KTLA Panini-Off.
The experience went by in a blur, but I did get to see the behind-the-scenes and learned a few lessons along the way. Number one is to never trim your own bangs the night before the show. I made the mistake and had to go bang-less for the day. Next, is to ham it up for the camera (no pun intended). Finally, it's all about the garnishes as observed from the day's winner and veteran of cooking competitions, Cecelia.
With these lessons in my pocket, I am ready for the real deal. So, if you are in need of dinner plans on January 19th, swing by Coral Tree Cafe up in Brentwood and let me and the other finalists feed you!
Hope to see you next week!
Sunday, January 3, 2010
My parents, like most of the previous generation, are very frugal.
They save plastic bags from grocery trips to be later reuse as trash bags. When they visit fast food eateries, which are occurrences rarer than meteor showers, they would come back with a month's supply of napkins. My mom even repurposes used Fedex boxes into magazine holders—it's quite ingenious actually.
Sometimes, I can't help but cringe when shopping with my mom and she busts out her coupon file at checkout. Yet, I see their underlying value in cutting down on expenses whenever possible and the importance of saving for a rainy day. Especially this past year, when it seemed to be "rainy" for the majority of the year.
To a certain extent, I've appropriated their thinking in the way I dine out. My personal rule is to never order any item on the menu that I can create easily at home, cause chances are, I can do it much cheaper since I don't have a big overhead.
So, pastas are out, as are risottos. Pan roasted fish? Out. Steak? Double out. Fyi: The secret to a great steak is a cast iron pan heated till it's smoking hot, a high quality rib-eye, a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. That's it.
What I do like to order are: duck confit, gnocchi, pastries and other labor intensive dishes. Or, dishes with ingredients that are near impossible to find for the home cook such as quality foie gras, truffles or burrata cheese... wait, scratch the latter.
Burrata used to be a delicacy as I could only find it in Osteria Mozza. A creamy and delicate cheese with an immensely short shelf-life, it had to be shipped weekly from Italy to the restaurant, where they charge a premium for the convenience.
Although Mozza did a stellar job serving the burrata on toast with bacon, caramelized shallots and escarole, it's still tough to justify spending $15 for the privilege of those two tiny crostinis. So, imagine my surprise when I spied the elusive burrata in the cheese section of Trader Joe's. The accompanying price tag was even more astonishing: $5 for 2 weighty spheres of the delicate cheese. I hurried home with my acquisition and had one of most scrumptious appetizers to date. Note, TJ's burrata is and will never be as good of a quality than the ones found in Mozza, but even so, it's still pretty luscious.
Burrata with Lemon, Garlic, Lardons, and Basil
1 container of Trader Joe's burrata cheese
4 slices thick cut bacon
2 cloves garlic
2 sprigs of fresh basil
Pepper and sea salt to taste
Fruitiest olive oil you can find
Rustic country loaf
First, set out the container of burrata to rest in room temperature. Render 4 slices of thick-cut bacon in a skillet over medium heat. When the slices are thoroughly crispy, drain them briefly on paper towels. Grated one clove of garlic and spoon over a good teaspoon full of the scalding bacon grease to cook them slightly.
Next, pour out the flavorful fat till there was only a tablespoon left and turn the heat back on. When the oil is at the right temperature, lay down 2 slices of good Tuscan bread to grill on both sides. After they're golden brown, rub a split clove of garlic and repeat with 4 more slices.
For the final assembly, simply place a ball of burrata on a big plate. Zest a lemon over the cheese to your liking, then sprinkle on the crumbled bacon (2 slices per plate). Spoon some grated garlic over each portion and finish with a grinding of pepper, a sprinkling of fleur de sel (or any type of sea salt—I prefer sel gris), a drizzle of olive oil and a few basil leaves.
Serve with garlic crostinis and enjoy responsibly.