Lots of cooking to do

Great food season…

Animal Restaurant – Meat and Greet on Fairfax

Knowing I would be at loose ends in L. A. with our 8 year old on a summer Saturday night, I seized the chance to visit Animal restaurant on Fairfax, white hot popular and still bustling since their opening in 2009.   I called ahead to try and get a 6 p.m. slot.  Their new system has you leave a message with your request and they phone you back.  As we  drove to the Natural History Museum by USC, I got the call.  Not possible, but come right at 6 and we’d likely get a bar seat. Good enough.   We would be “nose-to-tail “eating very soon.

Soft shell crab over loosely scrambled eggs, with an intervening layer of pureed salsa. Thin- sliced avocado and radish garnish.

We showed up at 5:45 to find a bearded owner/chef outside (not sure whether it was Shook or Dotolo),  quietly yelling at some teens along the lines of  “my roof and don’t get on it, of course I called the cops.”    Some graffitiing kids had broken his gas line.  The restaurant would not be opening until it was fixed.  The gas company was working on it as we spoke.   I took the opportunity to shake his hand and said we were excited to eat there.   As dolled-up couples showed up for their reservations, the situation was explained over and over.  The hostess brought out some house wine for any takers.  Juliet was given a lemonade and some cookies.  The hostess also confided she had a cancellation, so a table was ours.   Still,  the wait dragged on and we arranged to come back.  We went to the car and played a tough game of Go Fish.  Juliet cleaned my clock using her uncanny ability to get exactly the right cards from my hand just as I was ready to pounce.

We returned and were whisked to a table ahead of  a few others.  Juliet called out a hello to Ashley, the manager who gave her the treats.  I suppose we were seen as insiders.  Too funny.   I toyed with getting the rabbit loin spring roll, and certainly the liver pate on toast, but with a child, unless you are a mean adult,  you order one course and that will do it for patience, hunger and tolerance for doing a boring grown up thing.    Juliet ordered  the flat iron steak with fingerling potatoes and artichokes, finished with a parmesan truffle oil fondue.   I cannot, and did not, resist soft shell crab, over scrambled eggs, sandwiched with a pureed salsa.  I got a glass of a decent French rose and we staved off hunger with a side of garlicky grilled bread, finished with salt.

Our waiter eyed the presence of a child warily.  C’mon dude.  Two tables down featured some glamorous parents out with their 3 year old and a 6 month old in a carrier!   Ashley saw to it we got our food quite quickly.  Juliet was admired for eating a medium rare steak.  She loved it but found the sauce “a little cheesy.”  Fair enough.  My crab, appropriately, had the liver, so I got a nice burst of mustiness as I ate.  That’s what you pay for at Animal, and I got it.

Restaurants usually get complacent after being open a while and endlessly popular.   Animal seems in top form, while also maintaining a friendly and unflappable vibe.  It’s a neat trick to turn over tables all night while  not seeming to rush your customers.  Very much a plus is their inclusion of sides with your entree.  Too many chefs see every dish as a chance for another sale.  Also appreciated by lots of tables the night we were there was the BYOB policy with a $20 corkage fee.





Barley Pea Soup Recipe

Even fancy grocery stores have humble, bargain ingredients.    Case in point, smoked ham hocks were on special at our local Gelson’s, where the parking lot is littered with high end cars.    Apparently, even the staff has swanky rides.

The ham and veggie base, browning nicely.

Today I made Barley Pea Soup, and the house already smells amazing.    I sauteed half a chopped red onion, a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley and 5 whole garlic cloves in olive oil, then browned the ham hocks on both sides. Then I added a 16 ounce package of a mix of of yellow and green split peas, white rice, barley and pasta pearls.  8 cups of water went on top, with a healthy couple of tablespoons of good bouillon paste (not the dry stuff in the cubes).   I brought it all to a boil and gave it a stir.  This will simmer all afternoon (with a lid on) until the ham falls off the bone.   If it’s hot out and you want a cozy feeling while you eat the soup, turn the a.c. up.  That’s what we do. 🙂


Does this work?

I wonder

Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

This is such an American staple it’s easy to forget that basically it’s Italian, being noodles tossed with a few readily available ingredients and amenable to being doubled and tripled to feed a crowd.   Mac and cheese is so beloved that fancy chefs are sneaking it onto menus, knowing full well it will sell as long as it is not too laden with truffle oil (no, god, no), sherry (maybe a touch) or some other overthought ingredient.

As with any simple food, it’s easy to make, but a bit harder to make well.   Here’s my take:

8 oz penne pasta

2 tablespoons of flour

2 tablespoons of butter

1 1/2 cups of milk (I use 1 %)

1/2 cup of very good quality mild cheddar, cubed or grated (you can use super sharp cheddar, but if kids are joining you, choose mild)

1/4 cup of grated parmesan

Panko bread crumbs

Salt, fresh ground pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.

Unlike lengthy slow-baked oven recipes involving elbow macaroni and a ton of cheese, this is quick and almost all stove top, except for a 2 minute broil at the end.

My trusty All-Clad steel pan heats perfectly.

In one pan you’re going to bring water to a boil and then add the pasta. While this is getting done, you’ll make the cheese sauce in another pan.   If you were going to oven bake the mac and cheese, you’d want the penne to be al dente so it would not turn to mush in the oven as it absorbs sauce.  Not a worry in this case.

You’re making a basic bechemel, or white sauce. You melt the butter in a sauce pan at high heat, quickly add the flour, and stir right away  so you get a roux.  Once you can’t see the flour any more and the mixture bubbles, you add the milk, in two stages.  Pour in the first 3/4 cup and lower the stove heat to medium.  Use a whisk or wooden spoon to stir and stir.  It will thicken gradually (maybe 5 minutes), and then add the rest of the milk.  When that’s smooth (it will seem a bit runny and not so thick), add the cheeses.  Of course other cheeses you have around, like good swiss or provolone, can work.  Just don’t use anything smoked. Grind in black pepper, add 1 tsp of  red pepper flakes, and a touch of salt.

Ready to combine.

The penne should be done now, so taste one to be sure, then drain it.  You can certainly make the pasta way ahead of time and just have it set aside and ready when you do the sauce.  Mix the noodles with the cheese sauce, and pour it into a baking dish.   Sprinkle liberally with panko bread crumbs (super crunchy and stand up to heat) and toss on more pepper (black or red).

2 minutes under the broiler, max (watch this like a hawk), and you will have browned bread crumbs.  Even better,  you will have added the crunch that any creamy, gooey dish needs.  This final stage also well incorporates the cheese sauce and pasta.  I tend to  re-salt to taste when I dish it up, but I am a salthead.  Normal palates like this as is.

Crunchy, creamy goodness.

It’s rare, but if you do end up with leftovers, it microwaves great.