Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Original California Cuisine, Sunset Magazine Remembers When.

BEFORE Alice Waters picked her first Little Gem lettuce and Wolfgang Puck draped smoked salmon across a pizza, California cuisine meant something else. 

This is the first statement in a article from the NY Times article chronicling the influence Sunset Magazine has had on informing people about what California Cuisine is all about. The article goes on to examine the original California Cuisine based largely in grilled meats, salads and avocados from the article. It's really amazing how this magazine kept up with the lifestyle and cooking trends of the largely little known but very coveted West coast lifestyle. Through the 50's and 60's the mystic of the West was something that Eastern readers could only glimpse through it's pages. And largely it helped to inform those who had moved into this state in alarming numbers during this time on how that state's culture was devleoping. Even in a sense what it meant to be a modern Californian.

There is mention of "Patio Style" Cooking being the central theme in this early 50's and 60's home food movement in California. However there are also mentions of some old-school California dishes grilled BBQ turkey, cioppino, barbecued oysters, Crab Louis and fish tacos included amongst the descriptions of Tri-tip Sirloin Santa Maria Style, patio salads with citrus and Date Milkshakes. 

The point made was in the article that unlike in the East there was an ease and casual nature to dining and entertaining in California in the 1960's. No fussy white table clothes were on the menu and no ornate china and silver set ups. Also the point was that anyone could be a Californian by embracing this new open thinking, outdoor casual way of lifestyle and cooking which was showcased non better than by Sunset Magazine. It's readership included amongst others, my Parents, who loved the style and ease which Sunset put at the forefront of their articles. Especially since we lived in warm climates where outdoor dining was a way of life and not just a special occasion. These ideas flourished in our home.

Sunset was one of the first magazine's I remember being in our house growing up. It remained the one my folks held onto. They had every volume from 1965 on in bookshelves in out house. As of late my Mother tried to give them to the local library, but sadly they were not interested and they ended up in the recycling. Before we threw them out I flipped through some of the older ones just to see what was up and made an interesting conclusion. Nothing was so radically different from the magazines I read today. Sure the stories and the articles were specific to the time but the themes and the overall ideas were the same we see in todays lifestyle magazines everywhere. 

As far as cooking is concerned I give you a recipe for your summer BBQ. that if you try will give you a little bit of the taste of the old Californian style. Make sure you use the powdered garlic and parsley cause it just won't taste right otherwise. Give it a try it's an old staple in my house growing up even through we never called it by it's proper name. Enjoy Ya'll.

Santa-Maria Style Grilled Tri-tip
Based on the original Sunset Magazine recipe served 8

2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 beef tri-tip (2 to 2 1/2 pounds), preferably with some fat on one side. ( you can find this cut at Trader Joe's a California based chain or else you will have to get your butcher to cut it for you)
1. In small bowl, mix garlic powder, salt, pepper and parsley; rub well into meat. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature.
2. Meanwhile, soak 2 cups red oak chips in water for at least 20 minutes (optional). Prepare a medium-size fire on one side of a charcoal or gas grill. Add chips to fire, if using. Set tri-tip over fire, fat side up (with a gas grill, close lid), and brown well, 3 to 5 minutes; turn over and brown other side.
3. Move meat over area of the grill without fire, cover, and turn every 10 minutes or so, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part registers 125 to 130 degrees, 25 to 35 minutes.
4. Place meat on cutting board to rest at least 15 minutes. Slice across the grain.
Note: Red oak chips are available online from susieqbrand.com.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

California Dreaming: Why Alice Waters is so famous for what someone else does!

You take your first step into Chez Panisse in Berkeley California and you realize that nothing you thought about this Mecca to Farm to Table prepared you for the meal you will have there. While incredible and delicious it is the mere simplicity of the food and indeed the quality of the ingredients that makes Chez Panisse an iconic dining experience.

As I traveled through California this last trip I was again struck by the amazing quality and variety of produce available to Californians. It makes the New Yorker head reel to look at the variety and quality which even with our many green markets we never see because of the climate! My friend's in San Diego got a package from their local CO.OP. which made my poor shopping baskets at the supermarkets in New York pale in comparison.

The meal at Chez Panisse was simple enough. The starter a salad of warmed blanched asparagus, roasted morel mushrooms, prosciutto, baby rocket ( Arugula) and a brilliantly lemony dressing. The Main a "Stew" of roasted lamb loin and fresh peas and carrots with a risotto cake. And dessert fresh Strawberries and an ice cream profitole. Delicious, fresh and simple simple simple. But what made it so good were the ingredients. That's the magic os Chez Panisse. Simple preparation of deliciously fresh fresh fresh food. No spice profile, no ridiculous preparations, no smoke and mirrors, just amazing ingredients.

So for a moment during and after the meal I sat and pondered how Alice Waters has become an icon in the food world. I have read her books. No super fancy tricks there, just straight forward preparations. Elegant for sure. High end definitely. But simply letting food speak for itself while enhancing it's natural qualities with spices and preparations seemed genius to me somehow. I somehow wondered how this was so different and how we as a country had gotten away from this knowledge as we slid into a abyss of Applebee's and TGI Friday's food preparations soaked in salt and oil and lacking any finesse. Not to say those places are all bad. But I will say kinda bad. They certainly represent a commercial food engine using frozen foods and commissary driven preparations to deliver standards and a consistent product. But is it good, well if I am honest in a word, no. Is it all bad, no but it's rarely good or good for you.

So Alice Waters is really famous for what some farmer does. I mean she didn't grow the food. The meat, dairy products and produce that enter her kitchens are the fruit of someone else's labor. But what she and her chefs do is prepare them in such a way that no one can miss the impact their quality has. And she is famous for championing this trend. That's her real fame. Reminding us that good food is better in every way for us. Just like out forefathers knew, but never thought about because it was always there.

So I have some new inspiration for my own cooking at home. Not that I will pretend that I don't enjoy convenience foods and that I will never eat at Red Lobster again ( cause I will ) but at least in more ways and at more times I want to be aware of cooking things that speak for themselves and find simpler preparations.

I have no recipe today just these thoughts. As we progress towards the summer and grilling season I will endeavor to find some fresh recipes lighter and built around natural flavors. See you then.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Napa Valley and the best Pork Chop I have ever had....Mongolian Pork Chop from Mustards Grill!

Napa Valley. Oh the visions it can bring to mind. Long lazy roads and green and brown hills covered with trees and grass. Fields of grape trees and arbors laden heavy with grapes juicy and ready to give up their nectar. Wine flowing in covered and shady tasting rooms and patios and the smell of wood grills cooking meats and vegetables fresh form local farms and fields.

Grilling really is a singular smell there with all the apple wood casting it's scented purfume through the air. It fills every corner of the small towns around dinner time and really makes one hungry for meat. Yes that's right wine and meat is a very good combination. Tasty to say the least.

I recently visited Napa with my brother and sister in law and we had a really amazing time. We ate lunch at the famous Rutherford Grill and then went to a private tasting at Hall vineyards where we were treated to samplings of many of their delicious and richly aged wines. Very good indeed. And after picking up some wine to go we traveled back towards the San Francisco area and stopped just inside of Napa at Mustards Grill for dinner.

Now I had eaten at Mustards many years ago and had the opportunity to try their signature dish. So when I heard we were going to Mustards I announced to my Brother and Sister in Law that I had been there before and remembered how good the Pork chop was, In fact I said I remember it being really good. Well funny to see upon arrival that the pork chop is the most famous thing on the menu. And they have served over a million. And there is a reason for this. Because it's amazingly good! What's particularly good are the asian spices used to make the chop's marinade and the sauce all mixed up with traditionally western flavored side dishes like red cabbage and mashed potatoes.

I loved this dish also because of the name. For me it conjures up memories of "Mongolian BBQ" as form of cooking done at restaurants of the same name. As a boy my family did a lot of things offered on the bases as entertainment. One of the rare treats was when we would go to the Mongolian BBQ night at one of the local officers clubs. There you would select your meal from a cold food bar, meat veggies etc. Then you would carry it to a cooking station where it was cooked atop what looked like a metal kettle drum the size of an oil barrel with fire under it.

This pork chop recipe is perfect for your up coming bbq season. It's not mine but I mean to own it! Try it and be inspired!

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup mustard powder, such as Colman's
  • egg yolks

Put the sugar and mustard in the top of a double boiler and mix with a whisk. When well combined, whisk in the egg yolks and vinegar. Cook over simmering water, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, until it is thick enough to form ribbons when drizzled from the spoon. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool. When cool, fold in the creme fraiche. Keep refrigerated until needed. Makes about 2 cups.

Mongolian Pork Chop from Mustards Grill

  • Six 10-ounce center-cut double pork chops
  • cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • tablespoon sesame oil
  • tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black bean chilesauce, such as Lee Kum Kee
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • scallion, white and two-thirds of the green parts, minced
  • Braised red cabbage and mashed potatoes, for serving
  • Trim the excess meat and fat away from the ends of the chop bones, leaving them exposed. Put the pork chops in a clean plastic bag and lightly sprinkle with water to prevent the meat from tearing when pounded. Using the smooth side of a meat mallet, pound the meat down to an even 1-inch thickness, being careful not to hit the bones. Alternatively, have your butcher cut thinner chops and serve 2 per serving. 

    To make the marinade, combine the hoisin saucecilantrosoy sauce, sherry vinegar, rice vinegar, oil, sugarblack bean chile sauce, ginger, garlic, hot sauce, pepper and scallions in a bowl and mix well. Coat the pork chops liberally with the marinade and marinate for 3 hours, or up to overnight, in the refrigerator 

    Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Place the chops on the grill for 5 minutes on each side, rotating them a quarter turn after 2 or 3 minutes on each side to produce nice crosshatch marks. It's good to baste with some of the marinade as the meat cooks. As with all marinated meats, you want to go longer and slower on the grill versus shorter and hotter, because if the marinated meat is charred, it may turn bitter. The pork is ready when it registers 139 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. 

    Serve the pork chops with braised red cabbage and mashed potatoes. Offer Chinese-Style Mustard Sauce on the side for dipping.