Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bacon Dogs, the real L.A. street food

One of the reasons I love to shop the flower mart and garment district of downtown L.A. is the street food, like the tacos, tamales, and licuados other stuff. But the best street is the bacon dogs, complete with grilled onions, peppers, and zanahorias con chiles. Those are the pickled jalapenos with carrots, not quite as hot, yet they still pack a punch. Drew Carey at reason.TV has lots to say about the subject.

Well, now things have changed and what was once a thriving little entrepreneurial concern has now become a bigger issue, involving fines, arrests and jail time. Are we the only major city in the world that has no real street food culture? And to make things worse, now the taco trucks are getting a bad rap, with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors enforcing new rules that will eventually put most of the trucks out of business.

We find it strange that in the midst of all this food legislation, Food & Wine magazine, the folks who bring you that top-rated and sometimes over-the-top reality show, "Top Chef" currently features an article about some of the best street food to be found in these here United States. We are sorry to find that Los Angeles is not included in the list. And remember last season in San Francisco? The chefs had a team challenge to take street food up a notch and yet keep its simplicity. Hmm. There is a link to that article above.

We should all use common sense when we make choices about what we eat, whether in a real sit-down restaurant or at your Aunt Matilda's. If the food doesn't look or smell good, don't eat it. Fish should smell clean like the ocean. Chicken should not be red in the middle. Keep hot things hot and cold things cold.

I have had my share of bad meals, and the stomach upsets that follow. Yet I never got sick eating a bacon dog from the cart vendor downtown. The fresh orange juice lady on the corner across from culinary school had the cleanest shopping cart I have ever seen. And the pupusa lady on the next corner always had folks queuing up early in the morning. I have had the most delicious meals in places with a red "B" rating, and some of the worst disasters at squeaky clean "A" restaurants.

Here is the response to a letter I sent to my local county supervisor in support of our local street food vendors:
"Thank you for contacting my office to share your views regarding the proposed changes to the Los Angeles County peddling ordinance. Please be aware that this ordinance is effective only in the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County and it will become effective after May 15, 2008.

The changes to the ordinance allow vendors to remain in one location in a commercial zone for one hour, which is one-half hour longer than permitted under the existing ordinance. Los Angeles County is not the only jurisdiction that places time restrictions on vending; cities that
border the unincorporated areas have similar restrictions.

Although not everyone is pleased with this ordinance, please be aware that sidewalk vending has never been permitted in Los Angeles County. Our ordinance is a compromise that will allow vending in a manner that protects the health and welfare of our residents, and respects the needs of our business community."

I appreciate your taking the time to express your views. If you require additional assistance with a County-related matter, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (323) 881-4601. Thank you."

Looks like it's a done deal. All that is left to say is that if you are fortunate to have street food vendors in your 'hood, please give them your support.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Peter Reinhart's Pizza

Peter Reinhart is one of my food heroes and if you are the sort who love cookbooks, then La Vida Dulce highly recommends any of his books. His best is "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" and it should be on every baker's bookshelf. The current issue of Fine Cooking magazine dated May 2008 features his pizza formula. This is one dough that takes a bit of time, between kneading, chilling, even freezing, but it is worth every minute. Pages 66-67 show a beautiful classic pizza Margherita, and the article goes on to feature his delicious versions of calzones and strombolis. The pizza pictured here is topped with herbage, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, grated parmesan, hot pepperoni and homemade sausage. The ground pork and pork belly is from my local 99 Ranch Market. It would take me all night to type up this article, so pick up the magazine at newstands everywhere or check it out online at Tutti mangia!

HOMEMADE ITALIAN SAUSAGE - makes about one pound

16 oz. freshly ground pork belly with some fat added (do not fear, fat is flavor, just ask Batali!)
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried sage
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes, optional
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. kosher salt or to taste
(***Note: if you like the taste of dried fennel, add 1/4 tsp., sorry, it's not my favorite seasoning)

Keep ground pork well chilled. In a medium bowl, crush all spices and then combine with the ground pork. Take a small scoop of the seasoned sausage mixture and press into a small patty. Cook over medium heat in a small skillet pan. As the grumpy chef says, cook it till it's done. Test for flavor, then adjust seasonings as necessary. As with all raw meats, wash all surfaces in hot soapy water, and wash your hands. Cover bowl with plastic and let the raw sausage chill in the frige overnight. Like your Granny's potato salad, it tastes better the next day. When you are ready to make the pizzas, scoop out teaspoon-sized balls of sausage and place on top. Sausage will cook completely when baked in a 500 degree oven. Also makes good sausage balls for pasta sauce and for sandwiches.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bunz of Cinnamon

Look all around and it's bad news everywhere. Higher prices at the gas pump and the grocery store, people getting sacked and not in a good way, politicians slinging dirty low-down garbage at each other, money woes on every level. What is it all about, this Vida Dulce? Well, some folks make lemonade out of lemons, and some can make a smile out of limes. Don't quote me, I read that on a Daisy sour cream label. But hold on, I think I have a temporary solution.

Going through some old favorite baking formulas, I came across this one---let's make our life a little bit sweeter with sweet rolls. Buns of steel? Hardly, although these are quite hefty though airy, yet they are not recommended for everyday consumption. Sure, they can be adapted to include nuts (we like pecans) or re-hydrated dried fruits like golden raisins or cranberries, or sticky toffee glaze, even adding chocolate bits to make this simple recipe more delicious and rich. I kept these bunz plain cinnamon iced.

Perhaps the best part is the aroma as they bake and infuse your home with an intoxicating perfume. Yeah, those HIGH PRICED BUN makers know what they are doing as you stroll through the mega mall. I dare you not look their way as pans of "sin"-a-mon bunz (admit it, they are evil) are removed from the ovens and placed in front of the shop windows for all to see. Ahh! Deliciously evil little things, torturing all who breathe in that scent. One bite and you are hooked. But these here bunz are much better for you, actually cost-effective, plus you have the benefit of bragging to all creation that you baked them yourself. Gosh, look at that, I couldn't help myself and ate one before I could find the darn camera. Yep, sure takes the bite out of a lousy economy!

This recipe takes a bit of time, especially waiting for the pre-ferment and the raising of the dough. It is given in weights for accuracy and volume for the heck of it. Hang in there, like all good things, you will be pleasantly rewarded for your efforts. Bon appetit!

CINNAMON ROLLS - adapted from "Crust and Crumb"
by Peter Reinhart
Makes 12 large or 24 regular
13 oz. AP flour (3 cups or less)
4 oz. Cake flour (1/4 cup or more)
Lemon zest, fine (2-3 tsp.)
16 oz. Buttermilk (2 cups)
Mix the buttermilk, flours, and lemon zest in a large bowl by hand, cover with plastic wrap, put in frige for up to 24 hours. Best left in the frige overnight for baking in the morning.

Pre-ferment all 33 ounces of it
15 oz. AP flour (3-1/2 cups or more)
4 oz. granulated sugar (1/2 cup)
2 tbsp. instant yeast
1 tsp. plain salt, not Kosher
1/2 tsp. baking soda
4 oz. unsalted butter, softened (1/2 cup)
Combine all above ingredients, including the pre-ferment in a mixer bowl fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed 1 minute, then on medium speed for about 8 minutes, stopping to check that motor does not overheat. Many KA mixers have gone to meet the Mater Baker In The Sky due to mixing heavy doughs, so make sure you check the top of the mixer for heat. Dough should be soft, smooth, a bit sticky (sounds like one of my ex's) and pass the windowpane test. Take a small piece and stretch it out, it should be translucent. Place kneaded dough into a clean large bowl, take the softened butter wrapper and wipe the top of the dough, cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise 45 minutes to double. You can also place the dough in the frige for one hour, or even freeze it for later use. It will firm up as it cools, the texture is really very nice. When you are ready to rock, remove from frige or freezer and let it come up to room temp. Lightly dust your table surface with flour and roll out the dough into a rectangle about 1/4" thick. Sprinkle on top with a mixture of:

2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
and if desired, mix in
2 tsp. vanilla paste (optional)
Rehydrated raisins, cranberries, etc. (optional)
Chopped nuts, pecans, walnuts, etc. (optional)

Roll up from one end like a jelly roll. Prepare cake pans or a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray or with parchment paper. Cut dough roll into 1" wide pieces and place them spiral side up on prepared pans, allowing 1/2" between them. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temp for about 1 hour, until the dough swirls thicken and the pieces are touching. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place pans in oven on lower third rack. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, until bunz are a deep golden brown and firm to the touch. When done let cool slightly on pan while mixing glaze:

Glaze icing:
8 oz. confectioners sugar (2 cups sifted)
2-4 tbsp. cream or 1/2 and 1/2
2-3 drops vanilla, orange, almond or lemon extract
OR 1/2 tsp. vanilla paste

Drizzle glaze on bunz evenly and pull apart to enjoy. You will never crave those mall bunz again.

Friday, April 04, 2008

"Happy, happy happy anniversary..."

"It seems like only yesterday I was yelling at her to clean her room!" I told myself in disbelief. Yes, it is true, today is the 10th anniversary of the Frog Daughter's wedding to my beautiful son-in-law. The young ladies in the wedding party stayed over at our house the night before. Then the brother-in-law to be showed up, due to a late flight, so we put him in the living room on the sofa. To get everyone in the proper mood, we all watched "So I Married An Axe Murderer" which is truly Mike Myers' best performance. "Heed!" as the dad yelling at the bushy-haired son to get out of the way of the TV, and then going off about "The Colonel" and his "wee beady eyes" just cracks me up! Click the post title and to see a snipet from the wedding reception.

Hair dryers, clothes, make-up everywhere, the house looked like a college dorm. Weeks later, I was still finding curlers under the sofa cushions! It was a beautiful wedding, baby girl. Enjoy the day, and remember to start planning the "Vegas" trip. Con mucho carino y besitos to you both!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Too Late For Pullet Surprise

Mea culpa, missed entering this year's contest held over at Peanut Butter Etouffe. Click the title of this post for the winners, and just like Kip, don't I love technology. By the time I looked at my calendar it was a dia late and a peso short. Up to my elbows in changes, drama, and La Vida Dulce in general, I am so glad March is over. On to the good stuff, bring it! So here it is, a late entry, Burritos de papas con huevos y jamon. You will need 2 potatoes, eggs, ham, onions, grated cheese, s/p to taste, (plus salsa, sour cream, jalapeno & cilantro optional), and of course large size tortillas.

In a preheated cast iron skillet on medium-high, brown two potatoes, medium dice, in a bit of olive oil and a splosh of butter. When potatoes are almost ready, add 1/4 cup finely diced onion and 1/4 cup diced ham, and seeded, ribs removed and diced fresh jalapeno, optional . While these are cooking, beat 4-6 large AA eggs in a bowl, then pour into pan. Gently mix in eggs and let set slightly. Turn over with a spatula, then add the grated cheese on top, 1/4 cup or more, turn off the heat and cover. We like the cheddar/jack blend, it is your choice. While the cheese is melting, warm the tortillas on a clean hot griddle or over the gas flame, just like abuelita did.

This quantity will make 3-6 monster burritos, depending on the size of the tortillas. We like the Sonora size for burritos, around 12+ inches in diameter. Smaller tortillas are just as good, only resist the temptation to eat more than two burritos, their small size can be deceiving and very filling.

Here is a short guide on how to fold big stuffed burritos. Start with placing your warmed tortilla on a large dinner plate. Then add your fillings, not exactly in the center, but more towards the bottom third of the tortilla as shown. If it gets too close to the center, fold the tortilla over the fillings, then pull it all to the edge. Fold over that side, the one closest to you.

Next, fold in the two sides to the center of the filling, keep it covered. Then bring the sides in.

Just before you get ready to roll, check to see if you want to add anything, like salsa, more cheese, salt and pepper, Tapatio hot sauce, whatever you like. Now get ready to start rolling. In one continuous move, roll the burrito over itself, keeping it on the plate. Grab both sides and get rolling!

OK, we are almost there! You can see why using the dinner plate is important, it provides a good support, especially when you want to add additional ingredients, like a good salsa, making it easy to transport back and forth from the stove to the counter.

It is also ready for serving once the rolling is done!

Tah-dah! There you have it, a big breakfast egg burrito.

For presentation, cut in half at the center at an angle, and serve with additional salsa, cheese, sour cream or go way over the top covering it with a warm chile sauce, and serve it "wet" topped with some chile strips. A breakfast like that calls for an afternoon nap! Enjoy, amigos.