Monday, November 30, 2009

1810 Argentinean Restaurant

You'll seldom encounter a restaurant review here because I rarely eat out. When I do, I tear apart the menu, ordering completely uninspired items, plain and flavorless so as to not aggravate my allergies. As a creative person, I really respect chefs and their choices about how to prepare a meal, so I would rather cook myself than order and criticize a dish because I was not able to enjoy it how it was intended to be eaten.

This weekend, my in-laws were insistent upon taking us out for a "nice birthday meal," the four of us each having celebrated our birthdays in the past few weeks. My nerves started to build, not wanting to offend them by turning down dinner or pre-eating and shoving food around my plate at a restaurant. Then I remembered a new place the man and I passed by in Pasadena last week, 1810.

In the space formerly occupied by Gaucho Grill, 1810 opened in January and introduced an inspired and quaint eatery to the series of chain restaurants that line Colorado Boulevard. Greeted by a friendly hostess, we entered the brick walled and candlelit dining room, finding it to be sparse but cozy. My husband and I immediately began to reminisce about our Argentinean adventure. The waitress overheard and told us the owners are originally from Buenos Aires, so we poured over the menu, anticipating an authentic experience.

And the meal did not disappoint. Against my better judgment, I ordered the "wine special" from the limited menu, a Malbec and empanada for $7 and was pleasantly surprised. The empanada (from a selection of four--ham and cheese, chicken, beef, or spinach and cheese) was flaky and flavorful and the wine warm and fruity, perking me up and easing my eating-out phobias.

The main course selections were simple and highlighted quality ingredients. What caught our attention immediately was the Parrillada Mixta, or mixed grill. Would it compare to our experience in Buenos Aires? Much to our excitement, the meats were brought to the table on a little grill. The quantity was not overwhelming, but the quality of the meats was impressive. A good value, the mixed grill easily fed 2-3 guests with a crispy half chicken, beef, blood sausage, and a few mystery meats that were a welcome surprise. If you're looking for a good steak, ordering from the grill menu is the way to go. The 10-ounce Churrasco was perfectly seasoned and cooked to order, served with side dishes of garlicky mashed potatoes, rice, salad, or vegetables. The menu is rounded out with several "kitchen" dishes, chicken and fish with sauces and pastas, but being the carnivores we are, we didn't bother with those.

1810's cuisine is refreshing for both seekers of a special experience and simple food lovers like myself. And save room for dessert, or at least a bite or two of flan con dulce de leche to share with your table.

1810 Argentinean Restaurant
121 W Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91105-1924
(626) 795-5658

my first turkey: part two.

Not the drool-inducing photograph I was going for, but regardless of the somewhat mediocre outcome, I must document my first Thanksgiving turkey.

After getting lost in the completely over-saturated internet recipe world, I was really feeling the too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen anxiety. There are so many opinions about how to best prep your bird (wet brines, dry rubs, aromatics, injectors) and how to cook it (roasting in a bag or out, grilling, deep frying), I was ready to throw the dang bird out with the brine.

What's a first-time turkey cooker to do?

I sifted through recipes, articles, and blogs and finally decided to try the suggestion to Judy bird my Willie bird. I had planned on using a brine, but never got around to cleaning out my bucket. Besides, who can really fit a bucket into their fridge when it is already bursting with feast fixings, pie prep, and perfectly paired craft beers?

Unfortunately, as a result of my second-guessing I started a day too late. On Tuesday, I hastily made a fragrant rub of kosher salt (3 1/2 tablespoons for my 17 1/2 pound bird), lemon zest, and fresh thyme. The turkey was then coated, bagged, and shoved back in the fridge. Since I didn't have the recommended 72 hours for the rub, I cut out the drying time and just took the turkey out of the bag on Thursday morning, drying it as much as possible I could with paper towels. After a second rub of brown sugar and more thyme, I crossed my fingers and shoved it in the oven. 400 for 30 minutes, then down to 325.

I don't know if the rub affected the cooking time, but it cooked far faster than anticipated. The temperature read at 180 after 2 hours. Overdone. But not tragic. With major help from the ladies (and thanks to the man for keeping my wine glass full), the turkey was tucked into a foil tent while the sides were finished and "dinner" was on the table at 1.

The turkey wasn't half bad. The skin was crisp and flavorful even though the meat was touch dry, and a dollop of homemade cranberry-orange sauce covers many mistakes. I won't digress too far into my dietary restrictions, but a huge perk of holiday hosting is that I am able to indulge my inner control freak and prepare dishes that I can eat. For the first time in who knows how long, I had a colorful, well-balanced Thanksgiving dinner; feasting on turkey, cranberries, brown rice and raisin couscous, a yummy salad topped with my birthday pomegranates, and apple crisp for dessert.

I know, all that really matters was the time with family. Everyone was happily well-fed, no one died, there were leftovers for days, and the plumbing in our building didn't cause our loft to be covered in hot pink sludge until much later that evening.

And I did not have a nervous breakdown.

Monday, November 23, 2009

my first turkey: part one.

My emotions range from excitement to complete terror at the idea of cooking my first Thanksgiving turkey.

I know what you're thinking.
"You say you're a meat lady and have never cooked a turkey??? Just cook the damn bird already!"
This will actually only be my second Thanksgiving back on meat and last year, we were traveling. So no more excuses. This year, I'm gonna do it.
Otherwise, the weight of the 18-pound bird will forever be on my shoulders. And in my refrigerator.

I suppose it is a right of passage; cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the in-laws and expecting sister-and brother-in law.

On Saturday, in lieu of my birthday trip to Catalina to see (and hopefully eat) buffalo, the man and I did a bit of turkey homework. At first, I was discouraged because we didn't have the opportunity to plan ahead and order a special heritage bird, but we found we could get something nice and tasty. Our butcher friends at the 3rd and Fairfax Farmers' Market helped us out and we purchased an all-natural* free-range Willie Bird from Puritan Poultry.

My only real objective is that the bird not kill anyone.
But preferably, it will be perfectly seasoned, moist, have a lovely brown crispy skin, and supply us with piles of leftovers to feast on for days.

I'm not completely settled on my prep and cooking methods. All I know is that the dressing will not be stuffed into the bird. Our guests will be told that it is purely to keep the meat juicy, but my real reason will be to keep the bread and meat separate so that I can enjoy it free of wheat-worries. I'm also thinking that a brine will be happening, if I can find a suitable bucket. The brine "recipes" I've found are widely varied, so I think I'll be going with water-kosher salt-brown sugar-apple cider-and whatever herbs I have on hand, perhaps followed by a light dry rub.

We even spent the last $25 Bed Bath & Beyond gift card from our wedding on an inexpensive roasting pan.

I'm ready.

Wish me luck!

*Why not organic? Honestly, we were told that these were the best. Willie Bird does raise and sell organic birds, but not at our source. And really, it would have been pushing it price-wise.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

something I love:

This item perfectly sums up "things I love" for the week.

Just look at that man and his slab of pork! So wonderful. Not creepy at all.

Maynard Davies' Adventures of a Bacon Curer arrived in my mailbox yesterday . A super thoughtful birthday gift from my parents, this book is not only "the cult book of the year" (what year? Probably every year.) , but was the alleged inspiration for newer titles such as Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon.

I haven't had the chance to crack it open past the table of contents yet, but the chapter list has already got me drooling. Titles such as "Turning Pigs into Bacon" and "Goodbye Daisy" are sure to challenge and inspire.

Monday, November 16, 2009

so you're going to eat red meat...


I know, red meat consumption has taken a lot of flack recently, what with all of the food documentaries, pop authors putting in their two cents, and the general fatness of our country. If you've read my blog at all, you know that my vote is for eating smaller amounts of the best quality meats you can afford. (Please don't mistake this with the "best cuts" of meat; I recommend a cheaper cut of grass fed beef over a filet from the supermarket any day.) For this purpose, "best quality" refers to organic, grass-fed beef.

Here's a cheat sheet for the benefits of grass-fed.

And here are my shopping picks. Just my opinion, of course.

Best choices:
Farmers' markets. Unless you decide to pick up your life and raise your own herd of cattle, this is the closest you'll get to the source. Small farms sell all sorts of fantastic cuts of local, organic, grass-fed beef and are more than willing to share with you exactly how their animals are raised and what the health benefits of their particular methods are. This option requires planning ahead, as jetting to a market on the way home from work usually isn't realistic. Also, be prepared to pay for what you're getting.
Check out localharvest to find a market in your area. You can search by zip code or product.

Online ordering. So you don't live in an area with excellent farmers' markets? Gosh, move to Los Angeles already! Or explore online ordering options. There are heaps of websites that ship top quality meats-- and we're not just talking beef. Bet you'll never be asked to host Thanksgiving again if you serve kangaroo or rattlesnake. Again, doesn't really work for last minute meal planning, but can save time in the long run.
Eatwild is a good place to start. Farms are listed by state and most give great product and shipping details.

Pretty good options:
Your local butcher. Butchers are just wonderful people. Don't you agree? Those white jackets and sharp knives... don't get me started! Butchers are are ideal because they do their meat processing on-site, greatly reducing contamination risks. But do your homework-- not all butchers sell the best quality meats. If they don't sell grass fed, ask why! They are often willing to go the extra mile to make your meat fantasies come true.
Try searching on forums such as yelp, chowhound, and citysearch for local butchers and reviews.

Whole Foods. Afraid of the whole paycheck stereotype? Although their price tags can be daunting, sales are frequent and make purchases more reasonable. Whole Foods carries a range of meats, from "natural" to organic-local-free-range-grass-fed, so watch your labels. Stock up when your favorites go on sale and fill your freezer! Like stand-alone butchers, they grind their meats on-site, and often make their own sausages and dry age beef in-house, so quality is consistent and dependable.

Okay, but you could try harder:
Trader Joe's. Why isn't this higher on my list, you ask? Well, not just because of that darned ground beef recall last week... Okay, maybe because of that a little bit. Trader Joe's (or any local supermarket, these days) sells a decent range of organic meat and occasionally has grass-fed options, but their meats typically come from central processing facilities that are often to blame for large scale contaminations. Just be wary, and cook ground meat thoroughly. Or, buy cuts of beef and grind it yourself! Invite your friends and have a meat grinding party.

Where do you buy your meats? Any tips?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

limerick 1.1

too fond once of cookies pies & cake
sweets baked often daily- stomachache
but now for a treat
i'll feast on some meat
so watch out cow pig lamb rattlesnake.

Monday, November 9, 2009

a poem:

"so you want to buy my cupcakes."

so you want to buy my cupcakes
that i made a few weeks past
twenty bacon maple cupcakes
lazy baking just won’t last

made them for a party
then got kicked out of the bar
chef didn’t like my bacons
so they ate them by the car

now you want to buy my cupcakes
and how much do i charge?
sugar salt sprinkled bacon cupcakes
the fee? oh, it is large!

six dollars for the bacon
for best maple, maybe twelve
got eggs vanilla flour
could use them from my shelf

but you want to buy my cupcakes?
to sell them at your store?
free meat for life, and then we’ll deal
three steaks a day, or four!

(you know you missed my poems.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

sometimes, it's the little things...

...or, the not so little things that bring me joy.

Like this, a four-pound pork roast looking so much at home on my counter. At $1.98 a pound from the happy butcher man at Marconda's, I couldn't resist.
I hacked it up into twelve beautiful 1/3 pound steaks; now they wait patiently, Ziplocked, labeled, and neatly tucked away in the freezer.
In case you're doing the math, that's six (substantial!) meaty meals for two for $7.92.
Plus tax, of course.
But I'll let you add that on yourself.