The Adele – limoncello spritzer

Hi friends. Remember me? I promise I haven’t forgotten about us. I’ve just been… busy.

A week or two ago N. and I were talking about explanations our students give for their absences, or for requesting extensions, or for missed work, and it led into a discussion of the difference between reasons and excuses (which dovetailed into me raging against one of the judges on the Food Network show Chopped for calling a contestant’s explanation that the plate she wanted to use had been taken by someone else an “excuse” he didn’t want to hear). We decided it was, in some senses, a matter of semantics, and that in many cases it was too bad that “excuse” has taken on such a negative connotation. In thinking about how I’ve effectively abandoned you here, I do have some reasons for my absence, but I’m now approaching the point where they are fast becoming excuses, in all the negative ways we usually think of the word. I moved. (True, but we unpacked the kitchen and the computer with my photo editing software almost two weeks ago.) It’s hot. (Yeah, but it wasn’t last weekend or the weekend before that.) I’m tired. (Not so tired that I can’t teach, and grade, and whip up dinner, but tired enough that staging ingredients and capturing the right angles feels like a pretty steep mountain to scale around 4:30 in the afternoon.)

In the end, it doesn’t matter, because what’s important is getting back to it and making an appearance, right? So here’s mine. In the steaming slick of the weekend, peeking around the ragged corners of my own laziness reluctance summer schedule, I figured I could manage a cocktail.

This drink is in honor of my now former neighbor, the “now former” part of which saddens me greatly. Before the move, we were in the habit of having monthly happy hours with one set of neighbors, taking turns hosting an evening of snacks and drinks and music and conversation. It was a lovely way to end the week, and a great excuse reason to resupply the cheese drawer. A former bartender, A. always impressed me with her imaginative cocktail ideas (and got me hooked on vodka tonics – how did it take me until my mid-thirties to discover this dangerously refreshing option every single bartender in the country knows how to make?). It was always a different drink, always something slightly unusual (amaretto and almond milk, anyone?), and she always had the ingredients for it chilled and waiting. For our final happy hour as neighbors, despite not having a great deal of time to plan (packing – you know how it goes), I wanted to have something special to offer her, and it turned out to be this, a drink she liked so much I decided to make it again, and again, and name it after her.

Apart from our neighbors, the other thing I’m going to miss about the house we no longer live in is the lemon tree in the backyard. It wasn’t a standard Eureka or Lisbon lemon (the varieties most common in the standard U.S. grocery store displays), but it wasn’t quite a Meyer lemon either – the skin and pith were sturdy and thick, and they grew to larger sizes than the grocery store offerings (and man were they full of seeds, a feature I’m currently taking advantage of by sprouting and growing a few of my own). The first winter we lived there, I used the tree’s bounty to make limoncello, a lovely bottle I forgot about in the back of a cupboard and allowed to steep much longer than suggested, producing something tooth-achingly sweet and far too strong to be sipped. Over the five years we lived in the house, I slowly worked on that one bottle, adding it to desserts and drinks when a boozy kick of lemon seemed right. As moving day approached, I had only a few shots left in the bottle. To enjoy the sunshine of those lemons as long as possible, the day before we left I stripped the tree of every ripe lemon I could reach (don’t worry, there were still plenty for the new tenants… assuming they have a ladder…). To my dismay, this recipe uses the very last of these.

This is no great revelation, I’m afraid (after I made you wait for it for a full page to finally find out what’s in it!), but it is a perfect, and perfectly easy, cocktail for the season. It uses the very last drops of my limoncello, the very last slices of the last lemon I brought from the old house, and a simple fizz of seltzer water to top it up. And as I sipped it this weekend in my hot, still backyard, still scattered with the detritus of the week’s airborne celebrations (fireworks leave a lot of garbage behind!), it remained a lovely way to close out the week: fresh, bright, not too sweet, just the right subtle tickle, as we plow full swing into summer.

The Adele
Makes one (but so easily multiplied)
These are my quantities of preference – you can, of course, adjust to your own tastes, making the drink stronger or weaker, more or less citrusy, as you prefer.
3-4 ice cubes
1 ounce limoncello
1-2 lemon slices or wedges
5-6 ounces seltzer water (don’t use club soda – it contains sodium)

 

  • Place the ice cubes in a red wine glass (with a big bowl and a tall stem)
  • Pour in the limoncello and add the lemon wedge or slice(s), squeezing to release juice if desired
  • Top up with seltzer water, stir gently, and enjoy.

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Rain check

Not a single solitary chance of a recipe post, I’m afraid. You know how moving is: everything takes longer and costs more than you were expecting, and of course it’s also the very last week of my semester, with all the bitter joy that entails.

What I am offering is a little sneak peak into – if you’ll pardon my Hamilton obsession leaking its way into my cooking space – the room where it happens. Snagged straight from my phone (no chance of a proper shot yet), this is the place! Look at that counter space! Look at that backsplash! Look at the light pouring in from that big window! (Look at that jalapeño cheddar cornbread just off-screen!) New organization scheme and cabinets-that-open-the-direction-I-wasn’t-expecting and glare management and wonky stove aside, I’m besotted, and I can’t wait to find out what emerges.

Once I’m a little more unpacked.

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Rain Check

Sorry to leave you hanging here yet again, friends, but due to some big things going on that I’ll tell you about soon, plus that whole Week-11-of-the-semester thing, I need to take a rain check. Hopefully this will just be for a week while I collect myself and get into the kitchen for a while, but I don’t want to be too definite, since I’m sure you remember what Mary Poppins says about piecrust promises…

Back soon, I hope. Be well.

Grape and Cherry (Tomato) Avocado Toast

food-blog-january-2017-0152This one is a restaurant recreation from a spot we like in Culver City. These guys appreciate the lux/simplicity combo that is avocado toast; in fact, they are also the inspiration for my last foray into this ever-so-trendy meal base.

food-blog-january-2017-0136Cherry tomatoes and grapes seemed like a strange combination, and I was dubious about how well grapes would play with avocado, but it all works. The tomatoes are bright and acidic, and the grapes are tart enough that, with a squeeze of lemon and flake or two of salt on top, they toe the savory/sweet line successfully.

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I hope all is well in your world.

 

Grape and Cherry (Tomato) Avocado Toast
Serves 2 as an appetizer; 1 as a light lunch
About 15 minutes
4 thin slices sourdough or French bread (you can remove the crusts if you want more uniform toasts)
Olive oil spray, or 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, divided
1 ripe avocado
1 tablespoon lemon juice, divided
freshly ground black pepper to taste
12 cherry tomatoes, halved (I like a mix of colors)
12 red grapes, halved
1 teaspoon fresh dill sprigs
1 teaspoon finely chopped chives
  • Preheat your broiler to high and prep the bread by spraying or brushing it with the olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle ¼ – ½ teaspoon coarse salt evenly over both sides of all four slices (that is, ¼ – ½ teaspoon for all four, not ¼ – ½ teaspoon per slice). Set the slices on a broiler tray or a wire oven rack set over a cookie sheet and broil on high, flipping each slice over once, until nicely browned and quite crisp on both sides. Don’t step away or try to prep other ingredients while you broil; the bread can burn very quickly. Once you have crisp, golden toast, set it aside to cool slightly.
  • In a small bowl, smash up the avocado with 1-2 teaspoons of the lemon juice. Add black pepper to taste, and slightly underseason with salt (we’ll be adding more to finish). You can go with a perfectly smooth mixture if you want, but I like to leave a few small chunks of avocado for extra texture.
  • Smear ¼ of the avocado mixture in an even layer onto each piece of toast. Then cut each slice on the diagonal and arrange it on a plate or serving platter. Arrange the halved grapes and tomatoes on each piece – aim for even distribution. Scatter the chives and dill sprigs over the top, then squeeze on the remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice and a very light sprinkle of coarse sea salt. That way we get a crunch and salty kick with each piece.
  • Serve immediately – underneath the weight of the avocado, the toast will soften very quickly.

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Los Feliz Biscuits and Gravy: poblano and white cheddar biscuits with chorizo gravy

Food blog July 2015-1117According to adage, breakfast is “the most important meal of the day,” and while the heavy, sweet or savory, sometimes grease-laden offerings that make up a truly excellent breakfast are some of my favorite meal options out there, if I eat them first thing in the morning I’m going to feel ill. Give me a bowl of bran flakes or a slice or two of toast in the morning, then move to the eggs, the bacon, the biscuits, the sausage, the waffles, as the day eases on. That’s why I get so excited, and wax eloquent so often here, about breakfast-for-dinner.

Food blog July 2015-1100But for a 30-something living in an urban area like Los Angeles, breakfast food of this ilk means something else: brunch. Food that is fatty and greasy in the best possible way washed down with a mimosa or three to compensate for the previous night’s revelry – this is the true calling of a large plate of breakfast meats, scrambles, and toasted, syrup-bearing stacks. And here, at least, walking into a restaurant for brunch entails working your way through a crowd of plaid and maxi skirts, tilted fedoras, gladiator sandals, and the occasional waxed mustache. So, you know, hipsters.

Food blog July 2015-1104A few months ago, N. and I wandered through a little enclave called Los Feliz just south of Griffith Park after a failed attempt to visit Griffith Observatory (on a temperate weekend, with clear skies, there’s zero chance of finding parking there more than half an hour after it opens. What fools, we). On our way to a local bookshop, we ran into one of his coworkers and her wife having brunch, and it suddenly seemed like exactly the right thing to do. We unofficially added “eat brunch at every restaurant in Los Feliz” to our LA-to-do list.

Food blog July 2015-1109Brunch in Los Feliz – like many places east of Hollywood as highway 101 cuts south toward downtown – means hipster paradise with a heavy dose of East LA flavor: huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, chorizo folded into a thick, fluffy omelet. The Mexican and Latin influence on that side of the city makes for a glorious contribution to any brunch (or, as my sister put it, a meal that is perfect for “a Sunday at 11AM or any night at 8PM or later”).

Food blog July 2015-1106Our first entrée (haha) into the Los Feliz brunch scene was late on a Sunday morning, seated outside, as you always should be, so you can watch the show walk past: rompers and sundresses, stilettos surely too high and too spiky for church, bowties and converse all-stars worn un-ironically on the same person. Some passersby are accompanied by their pit bulls and chihuahuas, who often sport their own wardrobes, and pause to jangle their collars against the metal water bowls left outside for them by many of the businesses along the main drag. But once our food came, I don’t think we noticed another single pedestrian. N. had huevos rancheros, and we agreed they were a good representation – the black beans were meaty and savory and well-seasoned, and the fresh salsa was good – but my dish was the real star: poblano and white cheddar biscuits with scrambled eggs and a chorizo gravy. Flaky, cheesy mounds draped in a bright orange, lightly spicy sauce that, even though we’d promised to share, made me reluctant to relinquish my plate. Think classic biscuits and sausage gravy, but with neighborhood flavor.

Food blog July 2015-1107A dish like that only means one thing: restaurant recreation. Even as we asked for the check, I was already considering how I would make this at home. I wanted cheesier biscuits, more roasted poblano, and a stronger chorizo presence in the gravy. This resulted, in my version, in a gravy stronger in flavor but a bit less rich, and biscuits to rejoice over – flaky, crisp and golden on top, aggressively cheese-laden with obvious hits of smoky poblano inside. Plus, once punched out the biscuits freeze perfectly, so it makes sense to bake just what you need and save the rest for another lazy morning. It’s a brunch (or lunch, or dinner) option that will remain permanently on our rotation.

Food blog July 2015-1112Brunch in Los Feliz was, then, a successful voyage in many ways, and clearly our real challenge will not be exploring the area for its brunch options, but convincing ourselves to order something different every time, because once you’ve found an option as fulfilling as this, trying something new is a gamble I’m sometimes unwilling to take.

Food blog July 2015-1113Serving suggestions: because the restaurant’s offering was pretty perfect as it was, I copied their addition of scrambled eggs between the biscuit and the gravy, but the eggs are really just an extra luxury. You could also easily pair this with a pile of crispy hash browns or homefried potatoes, which would be an excellent match for the gravy. Though I don’t have much experience with soy-based sausages, a good soyrizo or chipotle field roast sausage would likely make an excellent vegetarian sub for the chorizo, if you want to go meatless. You might have to add a little extra fat to the pan, though, when you cook them.

Food blog July 2015-1114This dish is best, of course, the first day. The biscuits are never as crunchy and warm after that, and the gravy does tend to do that thing gravy does where it gets thicker but also separates overnight in the fridge. But I think, with four diners round the table and ten biscuits to share between you, the last drippings of gravy won’t be long for this world.

Food blog July 2015-1124

Los Feliz biscuits and gravy
Serves 4
For biscuits:
1 poblano pepper (¼ – ⅓ cup, when chopped)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into chunks
6 ounces buttermilk (about ¾ cup)
1 cup extra sharp white cheddar cheese, grated or in small cubes
For chorizo gravy:
9 ounces chorizo
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk, warm or at room temperature
salt and pepper to taste (depends on your chorizo – mine didn’t need any)
To serve:
softly scrambled eggs: 2 per person
2 tablespoons sour cream
1-2 teaspoons milk or cream
1-2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives or green onions, dark green part only

 

  • Roast poblano pepper over a grill or gas flame – about 10 minutes, turning when needed – until the skin is almost entirely blistered and black. Place in a glass bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let it steam for 20 minutes to loosen the skin and soften the flesh. After 20 minutes, remove the pepper from the bowl and use a paper towel, knife blade, or your hands to scrape off the skin (some illustrative photos here, if you need them). Remove stem and seeds as well, then dice finely for ¼ – ⅓ cup of roasted pepper bits. The pepper pieces should be room temperature when added to biscuit dough – plan accordingly.
  • Preheat the oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. To make the biscuits, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Blend in the cubes of cold butter using a pastry cutter or your fingertips. Butter bits should be the size of small peas. Add the cooled diced poblano and the cheese and use a fork to integrate, then pour in the buttermilk and, using a fork or your fingers, bring together into a ball of soft dough.
  • Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and use a floured rolling pin or the palms of your hands to roll or press the dough into a rectangle about ½ an inch thick. Fold the dough into thirds, then roll out again. Repeat, again folding the dough into thirds and then rolling it out; this creates more flaky layers. If the dough sticks to your board, use the flat blade of a butter knife or a pastry scraper to help you lift it free.
  • After you’ve rolled and folded, rolled and folded, and rolled once more (so you’ll have done a total of six folds), use a round cutter (or the lip of a glass) to punch out biscuits. Push the cutter straight down through the dough; don’t twist until you are all the way through the dough, or you’ll crush the flaky layers! Repeat, placing the biscuit rounds on your parchment lined baking sheet, until you can’t punch out any more rounds. Re-roll the dough scraps and repeat – with ½ inch thick dough, using a 3-inch cutter, you should be able to make about 10 biscuits.
  • Bake biscuits at 400F for 20 minutes, until their tops are golden and some cheese has oozed out to make lacey crisps around their edges.
  • While the biscuits bake, make the chorizo gravy: in a medium skillet, cook the chorizo over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it is cooked through and nicely browned. This is difficult to see on some chorizos, because they are quite wet and reddish orange in color; look for a textural difference to determine that it is cooked.
  • When the chorizo is cooked through with brown bits and lightly crusty, chewy bits, sprinkle the flour over it and stir through to combine. Cook the flour with the chorizo for 1-2 minutes, then slowly begin adding the milk, whisking constantly as you do so. I like to pour in about ¼ cup at a time, whisk until the mixture is homogenous again, then add the next installment of milk.
  • With all the milk added, continue to whisk slowly until the mixture comes to a simmer. You will notice it thicken as it warms, but it won’t reach its final viscosity until it comes to a boil. At that point, lower the heat to a simmer, taste for seasoning, and add additional salt and pepper if your taste buds require it.
  • To serve, combine 2 tablespoons sour cream and 1-2 teaspoons milk or cream in a small dish or in a squeeze bottle. Place two biscuits on each plate, top with scrambled eggs, ladle on some gravy, and squirt or drizzle the sour cream sauce on top. Sprinkle with chopped chives or green onion, and serve immediately.