Monthly Archives: December 2014

L.A. FLOWER MARKET, GRAND CENTRAL MARKET AND BUCHE

For a family outing, we decided to visit downtown LA. “Why,” you might ask. “There’s nothing there.” But you would be wrong. The downtown is being revitalized, and it has long been home to the LA flower market, two huge warehouses filled with flower merchants offering all sorts of cut flowers, plants, and vases and pots to hold them. It’s not the Chelsea Flower Show, but it is a pretty interesting place. In addition, the Grand Central Market has recently been redone. It has been open since the early twentieth century, but it had fallen on hard times. Now it has become more upscale, but it still has the feel of a Mexican mercado. Peter, our son, joined us for a couple of days from Silicon Valley, so he was in our group.

To get to the flower market, you have to pass through the garment district where bolts of cloth are displayed at store fronts. I though I was back in El Paso. For the flower market, you park on the roof top of one of the warehouses, ride the elevator down to the showroom floor, and pay an entrance fee of $1. Then you wander the aisles between displays of hydrangeas in many colors (dyed of course), bromeliads, cacti, roses, daisies, and this time of year, poinsettias being pulled from the shelves. Prices are remarkably low, so it is easy to fill your arms with bunches of flowers wrapped in old Korean-language newspapers.

The street between the two warehouses is filled with food vendors, and you can get pastries, humus, french fries, elotes (corn on the cob), and any number of sandwiches. But we were saving our appetites for the Grand Central Market.

We drove a few blocks, parked in the garage, and rode the elevator down to the market. It was an overwhelming sight. There were crowds of people, neon signs advertising various vendors, and stalls filled with the special offerings of every vendor.

Among the items we wound up buying was a huge bacalao that I got to make for a New Year’s Day dinner (along with black-eyed peas and cabbage, of course). There was an abundance of fruits and vegetables, but no yuca which Peter was looking for to make his Colombian sancocho later in the day.

Surprisingly, there was an oyster bar with a good selection of raw oysters and wine, so some of us paused there. Others chose Thai, Chinese, or barbecue. We passed up the Eggslut (Don’t ask me how it got the name) because the line was way too long. The place is one of the best known vendors in the market and offers eggs done in a myriad of ways.

Peter opted for a Mexican stand that was selling tacos and tortas. You could choose any number of fillings – chicharon, tripitas, tripe. For most of them, there was an English translation for what it was. Some did not have a translation. One of those was buche. This is considered a great delicacy, but for all my years in El Paso, I could never get anyone to tell me what it was.

Years ago, I had a waitress in a Mexican restaurant tell me that if I had to ask what a dish was, I probably didn’t want o order it. Those are words to live by.

Anyway, Peter ordered the buche sandwich even though the server seemed amazed and double checked that that was what he wanted. Peter got the sandwich, took one bite, swallowed, and then googled to learn that buche is pig esophagus. He put down the sandwich and headed straight to the barbecue stand.

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CAROL’S CROOK’S CORNER SHRIMP AND GRITS

For Christmas dinner, Carol made two of her family’s favorites: shrimp and grits, and pear and bleu cheese salad. She also made pots de creme in some antique pots from her great aunt. It was a delicious dinner without the turkey, but with plenty of calories.

This post, though, is about the shrimp and grits. Carol and her husband met during their graduate studies in North Carolina. Coming from Louisiana, Carol was used to southern cooking, but her future husband had grown up in New Jersey and had gone to school in the Midwest, so southern cooking had to become an acquired taste. He adapted soon enough.

A favorite haunt for the two of them was Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill. There, the menu includes pulled pork and North Carolina-style barbecue. But the place has gained its international fame from its version of shrimp and grits. Part of the uniqueness of Crook’s Corner shrimp and grits is that they stone grind their own grits. In fact, Carol still orders her grits from there instead of buying inferior brands at the store. And by inferior, I do mean inferior. Properly cooked grits require at least a half hour of cooking, and old-timey grits are for the most part not to be had. The grocery shelves, even in southern cities, have been filled with “quick” grits and, worse,  “instant” grits. Instant grits are in the same category as instant mashed potatoes and instant rice. If that’s all you’ve ever eaten, it’s no wonder that you don’t like them.

Carol’s recipe comes from the Crook’s Corner cookbook, so it clearly is made with Crook’s Corner grits. If all else fails, you can get your grits from there, too.

RECIPE

Carol’s Crook’s Corner Shrimp and Grits

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh, uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 cup stone-ground grits
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces bacon
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 pound white mushrooms, sliced
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley

Method

  1. Rinse the deveined shrimp in running water, and chill until ready to cook
  2. Bring the water and slat to a rolling bol in a deep sauce pan. Let the grits trickle through your fingers into the boiling water slowly while stirring constantly. The water will boil up and overflow unless you stir constantly, and remove from the heat as needed. When the grits have been completely added to the water, stir to remove any lumps, lower the temperature to a low simmer, and cover. Cook for at least 45 minutes. An hour is better. Stir occasionally.
  3. When the grits are cooked, stir in the cheese and keep warm until ready to serve.
  4. In the meantime, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cut the bacon into 1 inch squares and add to the hot skillet. Stir frequently until crisp but not burned.
  5. Add the shrimp to the bacon and rendered bacon fat, stirring occasionally.
  6. When the shrimp begin to turn pink, add the garlic and sliced mushrooms. Stir occasionally until the shrimp are pink and the mushrooms are cooked.
  7. Serve the grits in individual soup bowls topped with the shrimp mixture and garnished with lemon zest and parsley. Pass hot sauce for those who like their shrimp and grits spicy. Seve with crusty French bread and the pear and bleu cheese salad.

 

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CHRISTMAS EVE TAMALES AND PORTO’S BAKERY

For years, making tamales has been a Christmas Eve tradition in our family. The tradition has been carried over to our children and their families. This year, we are spending Christmas with our daughter, Carol, and her family in Los Angeles, but we decided not to make our own tamales but rather get them from a well-known Los Angeles institution where many of the locals get their Christmas tamal fix.  We drove to Downey where one of three branches of Porto’s Bakery is located.

We tried to get there early, but 8:30 was not soon enough, especially since the store opened at 6:30. We were warned that on Christmas Eve morning the line would be long, but we were not prepared. The line started at the corner next to the traffic light, stretched down the street to the alley, past the bank building on the corner, back up the sidewalk, and a cross a courtyard. Not to worry, we were told, the line would move fast. And it did. After an hour in line, visiting with strangers, accepting business cards from others, and generally having a good time, we made it to the front door.

Inside, there were yet more lines: one for those who wanted only cakes and another – much longer – for those who wanted pastries and other baked goods. The line was cleverly and artfully arranged so that the final pass before you were beckoned to one of the many clerks was right in front of the pastry display. After that, how could you resist ordering one of everything?

Carol placed her order to include caramel eclairs, deep-fried potato balls, and several versions of tarts and cakelets. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, Porto’s had run out of their famous tamales.

 

Our Christmas Eve meal was saved by my forethought to bring some frozen tamales from Santa Fe, but the memory of all of that sugar lives on. We also plan to have green chile stew. Carol does not like onion, an essential part of green chile stew, so for this version, the onion will be pulverized in a food processor, but you can just chop it if you prefer.

For Christmas Day, we will be more unconventional. Carol’s oven is seriously broken, so traditional turkey or goose is out of the question. Instead, we will feast on shrimp and grits. Perhaps we have started a new tradition.

In any event we wish all of my blogging friends a very Merry Christmas.

RECIPE

Green Chile Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds pork stew meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 7 ounces canned chopped green chiles
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • water, enough to cover meat and onions
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano leaves, crumbled
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 large avocado, diced (optional)
  • 2 cups grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)

Method

  1. In a large,  heavy-bottomed pot brown the stew meat in the oil. When it is well-browned, remove to a plate, and dd the onions to the pot, adding more oil if needed. Cook covered over medium heat until translucent but not browned. Return the stew meat to the pot.
  2. Stir in the green chiles and garlic, cooking for a few minutes before stirring in the flour. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, to remove the taste of raw flour. Then add enough water (Use chicken or vegetable stock if you prefer) to cover the meat and onions. Bring the pot to the boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer covered for about an hour or until the pork is tender.
  3. Stir in the cubed potatoes, adjust the level of liquid with more water or stock as needed, and return to a slow boil for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and more cumin and oregano if needed.
  4. Serve in bowls with diced avocados, grated cheese, and sour cream for garnish.

 

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SPAETZLE, THE LITTLE DARLINGS

Recently I have written about noodles and pasta and some of my travails in turning out good products. Part of the stimulus for my effort has been watching an outstanding video cooking course by Chef Bill Briwa of the Greystone campus of the Culinary Institute of America and produced by The Great Courses. Chef Briwa made pasta-making look so easy, especially after my history of struggle over the years.

Actually, I found the basics of pasta and noodle making to be fairly straightforward. (How complicated can anything be with the ingredients limited to flour, eggs, and water?) At the same time, refinements come only with practice and attention to detail.

Here is my effort at a close relative of pasta/noodle: spaetzle. The word is German, and translates to either “little sparrows” or “little darlings”. Personally I prefer the “little darlings” translation because I would rather not have birds floating around in the sauce, and the little  noodlets do look cute, snuggling in the brown butter. Spaetzle are basically made from a soft noodle dough that you force through holes into boiling water where they immediately cook and float to the top. You can use a cookie press with a spaetzle attachment, but those holes are too small. You can use a colander with large holes, but there is a lot of effort with a spoon in pushing the dough through the openings. The last time I visited Los Angeles, I found a spaetzle maker at the Surfas kitchen supply store in Culver City. As an aside, I would highly recommend a visit when you are in Los Angeles. They have more kitchen gadgets than you can imagine along with a small sandwich and pastry shop.

Back to the spaetzle, the device I bought at Surfas makes spaetzle-making a breeze. You load the dough into the little box on top, move the box back and forth across the pierced plate, and the dough automatically feeds until you need to load it again. The spaetzle drop into the boiling water, and you scoop them out into waiting melted butter at the same time you reload the box.

I served the spaetzle in brown butter sauce with croutons, along with braised pork chops, apples, and onions. Pretty German – and pretty monochromatic. You might want to add a green vegetable to brighten up the plate.

RECIPES

Spaetzle in Brown Butter with Croutons

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup croutons
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 quarts salted water for boiling the spaetzle
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter  and cook, stirring frequently, until it has browned, being careful not to let it burn. Remove from the heat, stir in the croutons, and have it next to the cooking water for the spaetzle so that you can transfer the pasta immediately into the butter.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, water, salt and flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
  3. In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Place the spaetzle maker over the boiling water. Load the metal box with dough, and using a back-and-forth sliding motion, pass the dough through the holes in pierced plate.
  4. The noodles should drop into the boiling water and sink to the bottom. After they float to the surface, let them cook for a minute or so, and the lift them out of the boiling water using a slotted spoon or a spider. Transfer to the melted brown butter, stirring them so that they are completely coated with butter.
  5. Repeat the process until all of the dough has been used up.
  6. Correct the seasoning of the buttered noodles with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, or you can chill them and reheat them later if yo wish.

 

Braised Pork Chops, Apples, and Onions

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 boneless, 1 inch-thick pork chops
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 stems fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, and sliced into ½ inch rings
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly (Use a mandolin if you have one.)
  • ¼ cup Calvados
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof pan with tight-fitting lid, big enough to hold the pork chops and other ingredients. Brown the pork chops on both sides. Add the chicken stock, garlic, rosemary, and bay leaf. Cover and place in the middle of oven preheated to 220° F.
  2. Braise for one hour, turning the pork chops from time to time, and adding water if necessary.
  3. Add the apple rings and onions, and continue to cook for another 45 minutes.
  4. Transfer the pork chops, apples, and onions to a plate, cover with aluminum foil and keep warm in the oven.
  5. Strain the cooking liquid, and return to the pan. Boil the liquid over high heat until it is reduced to about one-half and is slightly thickened. Stir in the Calvados.
  6. Serve the pork chops, apples, and onions, topped with the sauce and with the spaetzle on the side.

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GINGERBREAD

This is definitely the time of year for gingerbread. The aroma of baking gingerbread is one of the most elemental of Christmas fragrances, and gingerbread houses and gingerbread people have been important parts of our family’s celebrations for many years.

When our children were little, we spent a full weekend every year making a gingerbread house and decorating it with gum drops, candy canes, and Christmas sweets. The plans for the house came from Cooking of Germany from the Time-Life Foods of the World series.

Sometimes, a corner of the roof would mysteriously disappear, but mostly the house stayed intact throughout December. More than once we would try to preserve the house for the next year by wrapping it tightly in plastic and putting it in a secure, cool place. That never worked, and I suspect that various varmints got their own Christmas celebration.

This year, one of our younger grandchildren announced that gingerbread would be on the menu for Santa’s visitation treat. Probably the little one was referring to gingerbread people, always fun for children’s hands to make and decorate.

This year, too, Sarah decided to make a deconstructed gingerbread dessert for Rich Table. She asked her mother for the favorite family recipe that she remembered from childhood to use as the beginning point for the dessert. The finished plate doesn’t look anything like gingerbread that I have made.

Toasted gingerbread, Meyer lemon panna cotta, lemon meringue

Toasted gingerbread, Meyer lemon panna cotta, lemon meringue

Susan pulled up her old standby, “Edith’s Gingerbread” from M.F. K. Fisher’s classic book, How to Cook a Wolf, first published in 1942 and in a revised edition in 1951.

If you have never read anything by M.F.K. Fisher, I would encourage you to do so. A contemporary of Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and the cookbook editor, Judith Jones, Fisher is unique as a food writer. Her first recognition came as the English translator of The Physiology of Taste or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (Counterpoint Press, Washington, D.C.) But she ultimately became well known for her own writings, including the books, How to Cook a Wolf, Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, The Gastronomical Me, An Alphabet for Gourmets, and the compendium, The Art of Eating along with The Cooking of Provincial France in the Time-Life series, Foods of the World . Fisher had an unusual ability for describing eating as a sensuous activity, but she also wrote interesting anecdotes, revealed much of her own life, and included simple and excellent recipes for all sorts of food including boiled eggs and gingerbread. Try Edith’s gingerbread.

You might also want to try serving your gingerbread with lemon sauce. That was a combination my mother always used, and I loved it. You might enjoy it, too.

RECIPES

Edith’s Gingerbread

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup boiling water
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, beaten

Method

  1. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar.
  2. Beat the baking soda into the molasses until it is light and fluffy. Add to the shortening and sugar.
  3. Sift the spices, flour, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.
  4. Stir the remaining ¼ teaspoon of baking soda into the boiling water. Then add alternately with the dry ingredients to the shortening, sugar, molasses mixture.
  5. Fold in the beaten egg.
  6. When all is well mixed, pour into a greased and floured 8 x 8 inch baking pan. (Fisher’s notes instruct you not to be worried if the batter seems too thin and not, under any circumstances, add more flour!)
  7. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 325°F for about 20 minutes. Cool on cooling rack for about 5 minutes, cut into squares and serve.

Notes

  • This is not as sweet as many gingerbread recipes. I like it that way, but if you want it to be sweeter, you can always add more sugar.
  • If you are baking at high altitudes, you may want to cut back to ¾ teaspoons of baking powder to reduce the risk of the dreaded central collapse during baking.
  • Gingerbread seems to beg for whipped cream, ice cream, hard sauce, or something sweet on top. My favorite is the lemon sauce below.
Sift together the flour, ginger, cloves, baking powder, and salt

Sift together the flour, ginger, cloves, baking powder, and salt

The batter is not as thick as you might think. Don't add more flour.

The batter is not as thick as you might think. Don’t add more flour.

Fresh from the oven and cooling

Fresh from the oven and cooling

Lemon Sauce

Ingredients

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tablespoon Limon cello

Method

  1. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the sugar, water, corn starch and salt.
  2. Stir frequently while slowly bringing the mixture just to the boil. It should become thick and translucent.
  3. Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, and Limon cello.
  4. Serve while still warm.
Gingerbread with lemon sauce

Gingerbread with lemon sauce

 

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CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP TO TREAT WHAT AILS YOU

We have been back home nearly a week after visiting our family in the San Francisco Bay Area. We are still recovering from a “cold”  (could it be the plague or whooping cough??) that we got from our infant grandson on the Monday before Thanksgiving. He was quite ill for three days and then recovered to his usual bouncy self. Since then, he seems to have forgotten anything about the illness. In the meantime, grandparents are dosing up with various remedies and stoking up the nebulizer at night. Ah, there is a resilience of youth that seems to have left me.

Over the last several weeks, Sarah has been experimenting with dumplings. Of course, that means she has made the classic, chicken and dumplings. It occurred to her on our last night in San Francisco that chicken and dumplings might be therapeutic. There is the belief in more than one society that chicken soup, especially the broth, can cure any cold. There is even some limited scientific evidence that that might be so. We were not about to turn down free medical treatment. Sarah made a delicious version of chicken and dumplings, and we felt better. But the cure did not last.

Sarah's chicken and dumplings

Sarah’s chicken and dumplings

That made me think that maybe a repeat dose at home might do the trick, so I made a batch of chicken soup. Instead of dumplings, though, I decided to use home-made noodles as the starch. The soup was tasty even though the noodles were a little heavy. As to the therapeutic powers, we still have the “cold” (could it be the plague or whooping cough?)

There are three elements to the usual bowl of chicken soup:

First, the chicken. Most recipes call for a whole chicken. After boiling, the meat is removed from the carcass and finely shredded. Since there would only be two of us for the therapy, a whole chicken would be way too much, so I went with four chicken thighs.

Second, the broth. If you are a serious cook, you will make a rich stock from the boiling chicken and aromatic vegetables. For me, that always results in a watery broth that begs to be reduced and flavored. Alternatively, you can use packaged stock. Some cooks sniff at that approach as the commercial stuff contains lots of additives. Read the label, and you will find things like “chicken flavor”, salt, dextrose, celery juice concentrate, carrot juice concentrate, and yeast extract. Actually, the yeast extract may not be all that bad as it adds to the umami flavoring and richness of the stock. My preferred alternative is to use commercial stock in which to boil the chicken and aromatic vegetables. That has the pleasant result of yielding a rich, well-flavored stock. Then you use that for your soup.

Third, the starch. There are several good choices, matzoh balls, kreplach, dumplings, spaetzle, and packaged noodles among them. I went with homemade noodles as I have recently been trying to perfect what seems like an impossibly simple but confounding recipe. I rolled the dough as thinly as I could, but that was not enough. You need strong arms and determination. When you think the dough has been rolled thin enough, roll it out some more. Even better, use a pasta machine and work through the settings to the thinnest or next-to-thinnest setting.

Here’s my effort at homemade chicken noodle soup:

Chicken noodle soup

Chicken noodle soup

RECIPES

Chicken Soup

Ingredients

  • 48 ounces packaged chicken stock
  • water
  • 4 chicken thighs, skin on
  • ½ large yellow onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 2 cloves onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon poultry seasoning. More if you prefer
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 crimini mushrooms, chopped coarsely
  • 2 scallions, including the green tops, sliced

Method

  1. In a soup pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the chicken, the half onion, one of the carrots, one rib of celery and the remaining ingredients. Return to the boil. Then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken thighs are cooked. Add additional water if needed.
  2. Remove the chicken thighs to a plate, and when they are cool enough to handle, remove the skin and cut the meat from the bones, shredding the meat to the size you prefer. Set aside.
  3. Remove the vegetables and strain the broth through a fine sieve. Wipe the pot clean, and return the broth to the pot. Bring to the boil.
  4. Peel the remaining carrot and slice thinly into rounds. Slice the remaining celery stalk into ¼ inch slices.
  5. Add the mushrooms, scallions, celery, and shredded chicken. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. About 10 minutes before you are ready to serve, stir in the dried noodles, return the soup to the boil for an additional 10 minutes or until the noodles are cooked and tender.

Dumplings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons basking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup whole milk

Method

  1. In a mixing bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together
  2. Beat the egg lightly and stir in the milk
  3. While stirring continuously, add the egg and milk mixture slowly to the dry mixture. You should have a smooth but stiff batter.
  4. By teaspoonfuls, drop the batter into boiling soup. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Noodles

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4-8 tablespoons water

Method

  1. On a clean, dry work surface, make a mound of the flour. With your fingers, form a well in the middle of the flour that is big enough to hold the eggs.
  2. Break the eggs into the well. Add one tablespoon of water. With a dinner fork, lightly beat the eggs, and then begin to pull the flour gradually into the well.
  3. Continue to mix the eggs with more of the flour. Add another tablespoon of water. The dough should be well mixed and begin to hold together. If the mixture is too dry, add more water by a few drops at a time. The finished dough should be smooth and hold together, but should not have any stickiness. Knead for a few minutes with your hands until the dough is smooth. Cover with a bowl or dust lightly with flour and wrap with plastic wrap. Let relax for 30 minutes.
  4. When you are ready to roll out the noodles, cut the ball of dough into fourths, working with only one part at a time and covering the remaining pieces to prevent them from drying out.
  5. Shape the dough into a rough rectangle. Then using a sturdy rolling pin, roll the dough to the desired thickness – the thinner the better. Dust very lightly with flour and fold the dough over on itself so that you have a long roll with four layers. With a sharp knife, cut the roll into noodles of the desired width.
  6. Repeat the process with the remaining three pieces of dough.
  7. Dry the noodles for 20 – 30 minutes. Then add to the boiling soup and cook until the noodles have puffed up and cooked through. It should not take as long as with packaged dry noodles.

 

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AZIZA AND THE OUTER RICHMOND

A while back I wrote about the great restaurant, Outerlands, located in the Outer Sunset District of San Francisco. Outer Richmond is a bit different. First, it is not to be confused with the City of Richmond located north of Berkeley and Oakland and home to the (in)famous Chevron refinery. Outer Richmond lies just north of Golden Gate Park and south of the Presidio and the very toney Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights, and Seacliff (home to the Barber family of the popular radio show of the Second World War, One Man’s Family – if you are old enough to remember.)

Outer Richmond does not lack for restaurants. It is home to many immigrant groups including Russians, Vietnamese, Koreans, Greeks, and Chinese. In fact, some people say that San Francisco’s REAL Chinatown is in the Richmond rather than the touristy version near Union Square. There are whole blocks with nothing but ethnic restaurants, many of them quite good, but none exactly a tourist destination.

Aziza is the exception. A number of years ago, it started out as a Moroccan restaurant serving the traditional cuisine. With time, it has morphed into an upscale California-American restaurant but with Moroccan overtones. And the food is delicious. Aziza has a Michelin star to prove that.

Main dining room

Main dining room

We spent a great evening there in the recent past. One of the secrets of our success was booking an early reservation. The place got very crowded as the evening wore on. On top of that, Aziza  sits on the corner of Geary and 22nd, so parking is impossible. You should definitely begin your hunt for a parking space well in advance of your scheduled reservation.

The menu changes fairly often, so you may not have the choices we had, but you can buy the cook book if you want to sample what’s available: Mourad: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou, Artisan, 2011, $40.00.

Spreads: eggplant, yogurt-dill, and piquillo-almond-tahini served with flatbread

Not your usual Middle Eastern dips and spreads, although they are clearly based on the traditionals. They are creamy-smooth with distinct but subtle flavorings.

Spreads

Spreads

Beets  with cabbage, persimmon, cheese, peanuts, and rye tuiles

These days, nearly every restaurant serves a beet salad, but not like this. The beets are roasted and come with the root completely intact, nestled on a soft cheese with purees of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The delicate rye tuiles make a perfect foil.

Beet salad

Beet salad

Couscous

The couscous is hand-made in house. Ours came with thin curls of fresh pumpkin, delicately cooked pieces of winter squash, and cranberries. Two dollops of harissa were served alongside so you could season to your liking.

couscous with pumpkin, winter squash, cranberries and harissa

couscous with pumpkin, winter squash, cranberries and harissa

Market fish

The night we were there, the market fish was black bass. It was served with Dungeness crab, which is in season, along with shaved, roasted brussels sprouts and oyster.

Market fish

Market fish

Lamb shank

Cooked exactly as it should be, it was falling off the bone and wonderfully seasoned. It came topped with shaved tart apple along with fennel, barley, and nettle.

Lamb shank

Lamb shank

Desserts

Don’t pass up desserts, because the pastry chef is a James Beard-recognized chef in her own right. We got a medley of bites, all of them delicious. Her version of Turkish delight (lokum) was the best I have ever tasted.

Dessert

Dessert

Aziza is definitely worth your making the trip to Outer Richmond. Besides, San Francisco is only nine square miles in size. How long a trip can it be?

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