Free Is Good

 

 

Here’s a little advice for anyone visiting Los Angeles: if someone offers you free tickets to the Hollywood Bowl, just say yes! Don’t base your decision on the program. Don’t ask where the seats are located. The program doesn’t matter! The seats don’t matter! Well, those things do matter, but you’re gonna end up liking it anyway. So do yourself a favor and take those free tickets. Free is good! (By the way, Mister would advise you to rent seat cushions after arriving at the Bowl. That guy gets 2 per person and I have to admit, my butt and back truly appreciate his way of living.)

 

Anyhoo, a few days ago Mister and I ended up at the Bowl for a cool show. Before the festivities began, there was time for relaxing and dinner. Mister and I had a picnic of lobster salad and a lovely rosé.

 

 

“Dreamworks Animation In Concert: 20 Years!” celebrated the animated films of that studio, released over the last 20 years, just as the name implied. As various clips were played on the screens throughout the bowl, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra performed pieces from each film’s soundtrack. Jack Black emceed the show and he was so good that I told Mister I’d love to have him emcee any event in my life. I mean it. Imagine how awesome it would be to have Jack Black singing, “Next we have appetizers!” Love him or hate him, the guy did a fantastic job.

 

 

As the sun set over the hillside, I looked around and thought about how beautiful the night was. People were happy. The music was pitch perfect. The air was cool. The laughter was plentiful. In short, it was a stunning Los Angeles night.

 

 

Like I said, don’t ever turn down free tickets to the Hollywood Bowl, y’all. It’s about as L.A. as you can get.

 

RCGLA 2014 – Day 3

 

 

 

So Day 3 began with a fun carpool ride to Camp. I’ve been carpooling with my buds Betro, Lauren and Dawn. It’s such a cool start to our long days, talking and laughing through traffic. We catch up on how everyone’s doing and we talk about the coming day. It’s a nice check-in time.

 

Anyhoo, I’ve been wanting cake since Day 1. I don’t know why, I just have. So late Tuesday night I took my tired self to Costco and got a gi-normous cake for the volunteers. And on Day 3 I ate a piece of that cake. And y’all – it was good.

 

Speaking of food, Chef Olivia is again volunteering her culinary skills and feeding our bodies and souls. I would volunteer for the food alone, friends. It’s that good.

 

At the end of Day 3, we had our annual Volunteer jam-fest. That midweek decompression session really helps us keep going and giving. I would volunteer for that alone, too.

 

Today is Day 4. I can hardly believe it’s down to only 2 days before the showcase. Then again, I can believe it. And I love it.

Tomatoes on The Sill

 

 

The other day I paused at the kitchen sink to gaze upon the bounty on the sill.

 

It’s so beautiful that in our house, tomatoes have come to signify summer. We eat them until we’re about to pop, and the plants continue to give. Because of the will to live, those plants give and give without giving up. They don’t ask for much in return, either. Just some food, water, sun and rest.

 

Of course, those plants are loved, too. Call me crazy, but I like to think they love us back. They certainly do shine for us. All summer long.

Fried Green Tomato Stacks

 

 

I have a confession to make: I didn’t love fried green tomatoes as a kid. In fact, I didn’t love them at all until I was quite grown and had them in a gourmet establishment. I don’t remember being exposed to them a lot while growing up, but I do remember not liking them when I was exposed.

 

So what happened? Maturity? Skilled preparation? Probably yes and yes. But the reasons don’t matter. All that matters is that I’m in love with fried green tomatoes and I don’t care who knows!

 

Here’s what you’ll need for my version…

 

 

Green Tomatoes (Firm!), Burrata Cheese (or Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese), Balsamic Vinegar, Fresh Basil, A.P. Flour, Cornmeal, Salt, Pepper, Sugar, Olive Oil and Butter. Not shown: Salt, Pepper and Sugar. (Cayenne and Smoked Paprika aren’t shown either, but add a swank touch.)

 

 

Now, I’m not gonna lie, y’all. I kludged together photos from multiple cooking sessions. The photo immediately above shows full-sized green tomatoes and that is what you want! Don’t try to make the dish with little green tomatoes (as shown in the main ingredients photo). It will drive you crazy! Go full-sized. Trust me.

 

 

If using Burrata, drain carefully, making sure to keep the inner cream from oozing out, as it’s the good stuff. Set aside. When the time comes to assemble your stacks, use a knife and a spoon to incorporate the Burrata. If using buffalo mozzarella, place in a colander to drain for about 10 to 15 minutes…

 

 

…and then slice. Allow to keep draining (only if using buffalo mozzarella).

 

 

 

Place balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and reduce the vinegar to thickened syrup. Once reduced, remove from heat. Keep an eye on it! Once it starts thickening, it goes pretty fast.

 

 

While the balsamic is reducing, cut the green tomatoes into fairly thick slices, about  1/3 to 1/2  inch. Set aside. On this point, please, please, please use green tomatoes. I have learned this through trial and culinary tribulation, y’all. If those to-mates are already turning, just let them be. You want green and firm for this recipe.

 

 

In a shallow pan or plate, combine the corn meal, flour, sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne and smoked paprika.

 

Spread wax paper on a baking sheet large enough to hold all the tomato slices.

 

 

Dredge each tomato slice in the corn meal mixture, being sure to really coat well.

 

 

Place each slice on the wax paper.

 

 

When all the tomato slices are coated, place the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.

 

Place as many prepared slices as will fit in the skillet. Don’t crowd them, as tomatoes – like people – enjoy a little elbow room.

 

Cook until lightly to medium-ly browned, and then gently turn to the other side. (Medium-ly should be a word, y’all.)

 

While the tomato slices are frying, chop some basil for sprinkling over your finished product.

 

Once the tomatoes are cooked on both sides, carefully remove to a plate. You may choose a paper-towel-lined plate, if you wish. I don’t do it this way, because the corn meal tends to stick to the paper. And y’all, I want every little bit of that fried corn meal.

 

This would be a good time for me to apologize for not having a single photo of the frying process (or the basil-chopping). I don’t know what happened. Through multiple cooking sessions, I failed to pick up the camera a single time while frying. Maybe I was engrossed in the skillet. I just don’t know. At any rate, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I endeavor to learn from my mistakes.

 

Prepare each stack. Place a slice of cheese – along with some of the inner Burrata cream – on one fried tomato slice, then top the cheese with another fried tomato slice. Repeat until all tomatoes are stacked. (Your “stacks” may be as many as 3 or 4 tomatoes high – it’s up to you.)

 

 

Drizzle the balsamic reduction over all the tomato stacks then sprinkle with the chopped, fresh basil. Have some ripe cherry tomatoes on hand? Slice them and toss a few on your plate. You know – for color. And if you’re feeling particularly decadent, you can serve this with some crisped pork belly – as I did – for a swanky dinner! Mister deemed this meal “restaurant-quality.” That’s his highest praise, y’all.

 

This is one of those dishes that, once eaten, explains all the fried green tomato hoopla. And while I’m sorry it took me so many years to finally appreciate this heavenly dish, I’m at least glad I made it to the Promised Land. Fried Green Tomato Stacks – hallelujah!

 

Let me reiterate: choose firm tomatoes for this dish. The tomatoes will soften during cooking and can become a big old mess. Firm, I tell you! Firm!

 

I’ve tried this with Burrata and I’ve tried it with Buffalo Mozzarella. Mozzarella is good. But my favorite remains Burrata. It’s so deliciously creamy!  But I’ll take what I can get, and Buffalo Mozzarella will do when Burrata is nowhere to be found.

 

Here’s the printable…

Fried Green Tomato Stacks
Author: 
Recipe type: Side or Main – Your Call
Cuisine: Southern!
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 2 – 4
 

This is one of those dishes that, once eaten, explains all the fried green tomato hoopla. And while I’m sorry it took me so many years to finally appreciate this heavenly dish, I’m at least glad I made it to the Promised Land. Fried Green Tomato Stacks – hallelujah!
Ingredients
  • 3 – 4 Firm Medium Green Tomatoes (Firm! Firm! Firm!)
  • 1 Burrata Cheese Ball (or 1 Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese Ball)
  • 1 c. Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 small bunch Fresh Basil
  • ½ c. All-Purpose Flour
  • ½ c. Cornmeal
  • ½ t. Salt
  • ½ t. Pepper
  • 1 t. Sugar
  • ¼ t. Cayenne Pepper
  • ¼ t. Smoked Paprika
  • ¼ c. Olive Oil
  • ¼ c. (4 T.) Unsalted Butter

Instructions
  1. If using Burrata, drain carefully, making sure to keep the inner cream from oozing out, as it’s the good stuff. Set aside. When the time comes to assemble your stacks, use a knife and a spoon to incorporate the Burrata. (If using buffalo mozzarella, place in a colander to drain for about 10 to 15 minutes. Cut into ¼-inch thick slices and allow to keep draining.)
  2. Place balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and reduce the vinegar to thickened syrup. Once reduced, remove from heat. Keep an eye on it! Once it starts thickening, it goes pretty fast.
  3. While the balsamic is reducing, cut the green tomatoes into fairly thick slices, about ⅓ to ½ inch. Set aside. On this point, please, please, please use green tomatoes. I have learned this through trial and culinary tribulation, y’all. If those to-mates are already turning, just let them be. You want green and firm for this recipe.
  4. In a shallow pan or plate, combine the corn meal, flour, sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne and smoked paprika.
  5. Spread wax paper on a baking sheet large enough to hold all the tomato slices.
  6. Dredge each tomato slice in the corn meal mixture, being sure to really coat well. Place each slice on the wax paper.
  7. When all the tomato slices are coated, place the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.
  8. Place as many prepared slices as will fit in the skillet. Don’t crowd them, as tomatoes – like people – enjoy a little elbow room.
  9. Cook until lightly to medium-ly browned, and then gently turn to the other side. (Medium-ly should be a word, y’all.)
  10. While the tomato slices are frying, chop some basil for sprinkling over your finished product.
  11. Once the tomatoes are cooked on both sides, carefully remove to a plate. You may choose a paper-towel-lined plate, if you wish. I don’t do it this way, because the corn meal tends to stick to the paper. And y’all, I want every little bit of that fried corn meal.
  12. Prepare each stack. Place a slice of cheese – along with some of the inner Burrata cream – on one fried tomato slice, then top the cheese with another fried tomato slice. Repeat until all tomatoes are stacked. (Your “stacks” may be as many as 3 or 4 tomatoes high – it’s up to you.)
  13. Drizzle the balsamic reduction over all the tomato stacks then sprinkle with the chopped, fresh basil. Have some ripe cherry tomatoes on hand? Slice them and toss a few on your plate. You know – for color.
  14. Serve!

 

 

 

Yes, Please

 

 

Having lived all over the United States, I’ve developed affinities for various foods and restaurants. Brunswick Stew in the south. Anything from Snuffer’s in Dallas. Lobster and Chowder in New England. Pizza in St. Louis. White Castle. Culpepper’s. Hardee’s. And about a jillion others I’m simply not remembering.

 

These days, the only way my food memories are brought to life is through travel. When I’m sticking close to home for long stretches of time (which is most of my life), thoughts of those satisfying meals from long ago remain filed away in my brain-hole. But every now and then I hear about a restaurant’s expansion and I get downright giddy.

 

Enter Steak ‘n Shake. The first L.A. outpost of the mid-western chain is coming to Santa Monica and I am super-excited! I don’t expect to hit that joint all the time, but you can bet your bippy I’ll be heading over once in a while.

 

Now, if only White Castle would put down roots on the left coast. Oh well, a girl can dream…

Animal

 

 

This weekend Mister and I went out for a danged good meal. We’d heard about “Animal” a few years ago when it opened. Then, during the whole foie gras bullshit that was going on, I remember the restaurant’s owners being quite vocal on the subject (they were against the ban). Listening to those guys during interviews, I really learned a lot about the movement against foie and why the animal-rights folks were so ass-backwards on the subject. I respected those guys and decided I wanted to try their restaurant. Me being me, it only took me 2 years to get there.

 

I’m going to tell you now that I did not take any photos, other than the one above. This was by choice. I wanted to be fully present for the meal and Mister, and I’ve been trying to not dork out so much at restaurants. So far, I’m appreciating my choice.

 

Anyhoo, we didn’t have a rezzie so we were seated at the bar (next to Marc Maron, for those who are into celebrity sightings). Animal is a small plates joint, so we each chose a couple of dishes and ordered everything at once. We savored chicken liver toast, then a gorgeous green garlic caesar salad came out. (We chose that dish because we thought we should order at least one vegetable.) Best salad I’ve had in ages. Next there was a wagyu carpaccio, with slight Asian influences in the dressing and presentation. It was spectacular. The next dish was crispy pig head with rice, “bulldog sauce” and a soy-marinated egg. Just to clarify, it wasn’t an entire pig head. It was the cooked meat from a pig’s head, fried up and beautiful.

 

At that point, I was feeling pretty good. Sharing dishes had left me on the verge of being sated, and not at all stuffed. And that’s when the last dish was placed before us: poutine. For those who don’t know, poutine is basically french fries covered in some sort of gravy with cheese (or cheese curds, for purists). The dish originated in Canada in the 1950s, and yes, it did lead to chili-cheese fries. But make no mistake – these were no mere chili-cheese fries, y’all. This was the most mind-blowing dish of the night for me. In fact, after a single bite, I had to be still for a moment. I sort of zoned out and lost touch with where I was. When I was able to re-connect with my surroundings, I cussed out loud and realized Animal’s poutine would surely be my “last supper” request, should I ever find myself on death row. Mister and I continued to share the poutine and each time I took a bite, I cussed. Couldn’t help it. It was a stunningly impressive dish. Impressive enough to lead me to take the above photo.

 

Before I forget, I want to share something that happened earlier in the meal. To the left of us at the bar were 2 chicks who’d ordered different dishes than us. As they appeared to be food dorks (like us), we chatted about the menu. When those gals had reached their limits with the dishes they’d ordered, they offered their leftovers to us. Now, I have never once had complete strangers offer their food to me at a restaurant. Someone in my group? Sure. But strangers – no. I don’t know what to tell you, other than the truth. We took those leftovers and we ate the heck out of them. It was crazy and cool and weird and wonderful, all at once. Don’t ever think there aren’t amazing people in L.A., because we’ve got ‘em.

 

When all was said and done, Mister and I agreed we’d had a fantastic meal at Animal. Arriving at opening time took care of the lack of rezzie, and the bar was a great place to sit (full menu service there, too). I highly recommend it, and if you’re visiting, maybe plan ahead for this one.

 

And if you order the poutine, I can tell you from personal experience that it’s okay to cuss. It’s that good.

The Kindness of Strangers

 

 

The other day Mister and I found a sack of apricots by our back door. I have absolutely no idea who left them there.

 

My next-door neighbor has an apricot tree, but if they were from her, she would have left them by the front door. Mister has been chatting with someone else from these here parts, and she told him she has an apricot tree, so maybe they were from her. But as he’s never caught her name or exactly where she lives, we don’t know for sure if it was her who left the fruit.

 

Maybe it doesn’t matter if we know who gifted us with home-grown apricots. Maybe just appreciating the golden beauties and the kindness of strangers is enough. Still, it would be nice to express our gratitude. In time…

Renegade Vidalia Onion

 

 

My love of the short-seasoned Vidalia Onion means 10-pound bags of the beauties in the trunk of my car. I picked up a bag a few days ago, and I’m happier for it.

 

Anyhoo, I’ve noticed – while driving around the last couple of days – an odd sound coming from the car’s trunk. Last night I was loading some painting gear in there and what do you think I found? The mystery noisemaker: a renegade Vidalia Onion.

 

I’m mighty glad to have found it, ’cause I’m gonna eat that onion, y’all. For reals.

Pig Candy

 

 

This weekend Mister and I climbed into the car to go to Beer Clug and I looked down at the bucket of Pig Candy I was carrying and said, “This may be the strangest thing I’ve ever had in my lap.”

 

Pig Candy is caramelized bacon. This was my first time making it, and while it was a huge hit at Beer Clug, it wasn’t my favorite. So I’ll keep trying until I land on a method I like.

 

And then I’ll probably be carrying that to some sort of gathering or another, and again find myself thinking how odd it is to be holding such a concoction.

Pie

 

 

I happen to love “Southern Living” magazine. I enjoy the editorials, the garden information, the recipes. When I received the most recent issue, I read the danged thang from cover-to-cover.

 

After I’d put the magazine aside, I kept looking at the cover. I couldn’t help myself. The cover photo of blueberry pie was right up my alley. Balsamic vinegar and honey? Oh, yes! So yesterday morning I made it. And I am in love.

 

Sorry I didn’t blog it, but I just didn’t. The link to the recipe is here. I highly recommend it. It’s a real time-consumer, so if you decide to make it, plan ahead!

 

As for me, I’m already looking forward to my next helping. Super-yummy!