Friday, April 30, 2010

Rainbow "salt potatoes" from Weiser Farms

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I have to admit: There's really no recipe. It's just an excuse to post what I think is a beautiful picture. Don't you agree?

These colored baby potatoes from Weiser Farms were so beautiful at last week's farmers' market, I had to buy them. When I served them at dinner that night, they were so delicious I thought I might cry. New potatoes in spring. It's one of those blessed, blessed flavors you wonder how you live the rest of the year without.

I grew up in a house that ate potatoes one way: baked, great big Idaho thudders, with margarine on top. The first time I tasted a real potato, I was in  my early 20s and visiting a friend in Ithaca in the early summer. He was still in graduate school; I had escaped my tiny Manhattan apartment for a few days of real air. We went to - okay, I can't actually remember. It might have been a farm stand. Or an actual farm? Or a neighbor near the house he was tending for the summer? Something like that.

We brought home a bag of small new potatoes and, as instructed by the grower, boiled them tender in very, very salty water; she called them "salt potatoes." We ate them with our hands, standing up in the kitchen. I remember the way the skin held taut under my teeth, and I had to bite down harder than I was expecting to get to the silky inside. The flesh was seasoned but not salty. The salty slick of skin mixed with the flesh. Pure potato.

Here's the recipe for these rainbow salt potatoes, if you need one; it's on my LA Cooking Examiner column. But it's pretty foolproof. Gorgeous baby potatoes; very salty water; heat and time; butter and a sprinkle of coarse finishing salt. The coarse salt is more for texture than taste, because, of course, the potatoes will already be salty on the outside.

I know there are many more ways to prepare potatoes. But in the spring, I rarely do more than this. And it's enough.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Strawberry crepes recipe on Food Service Warehouse blog

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It's the height of strawberry season in southern California, and to celebrate I wrote a guest post this week for the Food Service Warehouse blog. I'm really impressed with the way Food Service Warehouse, an online commercial restaurant supply house, is using social media to reach its audience - in fact, I met them through my day job at, where they've been a steady expert presence answering restaurant equipment questions on Answers, our business-to-business Q&A.

But I digress....The strawberry crepes in the photo above are easy and delicate, and when I served them last weekend all guests involved wanted seconds. You'll love them. Click through on the link below for the recipe.

Read "Strawberry crepes recipe from In Erika's Kitchen" on the FSW Blog Network

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Alice Waters: A few of her favorite things

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When you have 10 minutes with Alice Waters, what do you talk about?

Maybe not the right question.

When you have 10 minutes with Alice Waters, and you're a native New Yorker for whom moving to California completely changed the way you think about food, and you've been to Chez Panisse once and felt like you were entering Valhalla, and you've planted a dozen fruit trees in your backyard because you just can't believe that food actually grows on trees in the place you live, and you walk around the farmers market every week with your mouth hanging open, and thus you think Alice Waters is as close to a deity as you'll ever meet in the flesh...

...what do you talk about?

Thus was my dilemma last Sunday, when Alice Waters did a cooking demonstration at the 2010 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and Michael Weisberg, who runs the Cooking Stage every year, brought a few of us into the "green room" (aka "white tent") behind the stage before the presentation. Luckily, one of the other writers who was there was less star-struck than I was, and she carried the conversation. Her angle was more green living, environmental stuff, not really my focus, so I drifted in and out of that exchange. Instead, I was thinking: Ask something smart. Get her to say something original. Engage!

It was harder than it sounds. Because here are the topics Alice Waters is passionate about: fresh ingredients, high-quality produce, simple preparations, get close to your food sources, local organic, visual pleasure equals culinary delight, compost in the kitchen, grow your own, teaching kids about real food. When she was first saying these things 40 years ago (yes, Chez Panisse is coming up on its 40th anniversary next year), they were truly revolutionary.  Now they're the lingua franca of the food world. She has won. Her message is the food world's message.

I was having trouble finding an original angle.

When it was my turn, I took a deep breath and decided to go personal. I'll name an ingredient, I said, and you tell me your favorite way to prepare and enjoy it. Culinary 20 (well, 7) questions. Her eyes sparkled. "Let's go," she said.

So here are a few of Alice Waters' favorite ways to enjoy some of my (and her) favorite ingredients - all very simple, which should surprise no one.
  • Blood oranges: "Just sliced up, for making a salad or a fruit compote."
  • Avocado: "Aaaahhh - I make avocado toasts for breakfast."
  • Lemon: "Well, I squeeze the lemon on the avocado toasts!"
  • Green garlic: "I make a simple soup, all vegetables, to accentuate that subtle taste of garlic at this moment in time [meaning spring, I assume]."
  • Goat cheese: "I bake goat cheese, rolled in breadcrumbs, stick it in the oven, and just when it's soft I serve it with a salad."
  • Olives: "I take the pits out of the fruit, chop them up, then make a tapenade, or I scatter them on top of a pizza or pasta with tomatoes."
  • Pizza: "Nettles. I love wild nettles on a pizza."
Does anyone know where and when to get nettles in southern California? The rest of that I can handle.

Alice was at the Festival of Books to promote her latest book, In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart. She says there's another book coming up next year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Chez Panisse.

Here are a few images from Alice's presentation, which focused on the beauty of fresh produce. By the way, she and her coauthor Kelsie Kerr apparently stopped at the Hollywood farmers market Sunday morning to collect the produce you see in the photos below. Was anyone there? Was there a stir? Or did she slip by completely incognito?

Alice Waters with coauthor Kelsie Kerr on the Cooking Stage at the LA Times Festival of Books

Fresh fava beans, popped out of their skins, with homemade aioli

Green garlic, young onions and white radishes

A tangle of fresh herbs

 Asparagus, avocado, greens and fresh almonds

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Honoring the California avocado with the Too Hot Tamales

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Me with the Too Hot Tamales at Ciudad

It's Saturday and I've been invited to lunch at Ciudad, one of my favorite downtown restaurants, to talk about avocados with a bunch of other food bloggers. And there's lots to talk about. Ciudad owners Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, the dynamic duo also known as Too Hot Tamales, are huge fans of the avocado, and they work with the California Avocado Commission to spread the avocado love around. I've lived in southern California more than a decade and visited the Tamales' restaurants many times, but I've got butterflies as I turn into the parking garage. I learned to cook watching Mary Sue and Susan on TV in my New York apartment two decades ago, when the only Mexican food I knew came from El Torito. They've been stars to me for a long time.

When I arrive, it turns out that there's more than lunch and a pleasant chat involved. The Tamales, all challenge-happy from Susan's stint on Top Chef Masters Season 2, have set up a little challenge for us. One table holds bowls of quartered California avocados. Another is laden with bowls of possible guacamole mix-ins, from traditional (lemons and limes, chopped cilantro, salsas, onions) to not so much (pomegranate seeds, bacon, all kinds of Asian condiments, bananas?!?). In teams of two, we've got five minutes to create the ultimate guacamole.

Rachael Narins with our Pure Guac L.A.

Luckily, I grab Rachael Narins as my partner. She's one of the brainy chefs behind the phenomenal roaming supper club Chicks With Knives, and she has one of the most refined and creative palates I know. We pull in Marla Meridith of Family Fresh Cooking at the last minute and get to work. Let's go purist, says Rachael, and Marla and I agree and start mashing. Lime, salt, cilantro, a touch of salsa, and a sprinkle of ground dried chipotle, just the tiniest bit. Rachael tastes, sprinkles, tastes, squeezes, tastes. Now I know why her food tastes so good, always: She is not easily satisfied. We write our creation's name on a card - Pure Guac L.A. - and we're done.

Each team talks about the inspiration for its recipe as the judges taste. Our turn approaches, and I'm in front, so I do the talking. "Tell them we wanted to honor the avocado," mouths Rachael to me. Honor the avocado: It's the perfect way to frame what we've done. When you go simple and pure, it's all about the balance, and Rachael's palate comes through for us - the judges comment on how perfectly the flavors come together. Still, our Pure Guac is no match for Spud Not, a concoction loaded with traditional baked potato toppings, including what seems like a full pound of bacon. Bacon always wins. But we're happy with our honorable mention. We followed our hearts and honored our avocados.

Susan and Mary Sue making avocado tacos (left) and skillet chilaquiles

After that, Susan and Mary Sue put on an impressive demo while we take pictures - food bloggers, of course, who would expect us to stay in our seats? - and nibble on what's coming out of the kitchen. Crispy avocado tacos, a tasty salad, skillet chilaquiles with chicken and avocado, a simple mango and avocado plate with honey-sweetened yogurt, an orange and avocado liquado. The avocados add a richness to every dish.

Crispy avocado tacos - Susan and Mary Sue serve these from the Border Grill truck

At the end of the lunch I head to the ladies' to freshen up, and I catch my reflection in the mirror. Am I imagining it, or does my skin look clearer and smoother than it did when I left the house? Not the lighting. Must be those magical avocados.

Orange and avocado liquado

See more photos from this event in Celebrating California avocados at Ciudad with Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken on my LA Cooking Examiner column

More avocado recipes from Erika:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Goodie bags for chefs

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[Warning: If you happen to be one of the superstar cookbook authors appearing on the Cooking Stage at the 2010 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA, STOP READING RIGHT NOW - the goodie bags are supposed to be a surprise! Also, hi, and thanks for visiting my blog!]

You know how movie stars get terrific goodie bags filled with jewelry, cool sunglasses and expensive skincare products when they go to industry events? Well, chefs who go to industry events get goodie bags too - and the stuff they get would make your little foodie eyes turn pure green with envy.

For example, this weekend is the 2010 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA. On the Cooking Stage, cookbook authors and celebrity chefs - Alice Waters, Trisha Yearwood and Alicia Silverstone, among others - will talk and demonstrate recipes from their books for the crowd. Michael Weisberg, the fabulous emcee of the cooking events and cookbook publicist extraordinaire, has assembled some fantastic goodie bags for the special guests. And he gave me a peek inside.

What does it take to impress Alice Waters? Let's see: 

California Innovations Thermal Tote - 56 Can BLUE