The Last Bites of Summer

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The Last Bites of Summer (8/29/18)

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but that feeling's in the air. People are talking about Pumpkin Spiced Lattes making their return, the farmer's market is starting to sell apples again (even in L.A.), and this bowl of Clam Chowder from L&E Oyster Bar is probably the closest I'll get to the beach again before we're putting up a Christmas tree.

And yet, who am I kidding? I live in California. It's going to be hot until November, so even if it feels like the end of summer, it's really not. I see you person wearing a scarf on an 83 degree day. You're not fooling anyone.

What I've Been Cooking:
I'm trying to make this newsletter a little cleaner and better-organized, so I'm dividing it into three sections: what I've been cooking, where I've been eating, and a section for links and other things that I haven't named yet but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

1. Buttermilk Biscuits in the Food Processor.

Buttermilk is a dangerous thing for me to have around. I bought it two weeks ago to make Melissa Clark's brown butter corn bread (which is amazing, by the way) and there it was in my refrigerator on Saturday morning, calling to me to use it before it went sour (does buttermilk go sour? Let's pretend it does.) Well, when buttermilk calls to me on a Saturday morning there's only one thing I have the urge to make and that's buttermilk biscuits.

In the past, I've made drop biscuits (it's a great recipe, click the words to see it); they go in a cake pan and get brushed with butter and you wind up with nine fluffy biscuits for you and your guests to devour. But since it was just me and Craig, I wanted to do a recipe where I could cut the biscuits into nine portions and freeze the majority of them, baking off only the ones that we wanted to eat.

I also wanted to use my food processor. Last year, I bought a fancy food processor on Amazon Prime Day and it was my best friend last December when, once again, I made 300 latkes for my annual Latke Party. I especially love the food processor for making pie dough (it keeps the butter cold because it cuts it in so fast) and wanted to give that theory a try on biscuits. So I looked up a basic biscuit recipe online and settled on this one by Martha Stewart. Martha doesn't tell you to use a food processor, but this was my own maverick move. I just put all the dry ingredients in there, pulsed a few times, cut up the cold butter, dropped that in, pulsed until I had pea-sized pieces, poured in the cold buttermilk, pulsed just until it came together, and then I dumped it on to a board.

The other tool that came in handy here was my bench scraper, which I love for stuff like this. I used it to press that shaggy mess into a rectangle, then I folded the rectangle in on itself like a letter, turning it 90 degrees, flattening it again, folding it again, and doing that again one more time, really fast, until I was happy. Then I used the bench scraper to cut the rectangle into nine biscuits...

I put five of them on a cookie sheet and popped that straight into the freezer. When they were frozen, a few hours later, I put them in a freezer bag for future biscuit experiences. As for the remaining four, I put those on a different cookie sheet and popped them into a 450 oven for 20 minutes. And here they are: flaky, hot, buttermilk biscuits.

As you can see, they're a little firmer than they would be if I'd just made them by hand. But I appreciated the convenience of this method and clean-up was a cinch. And now I have five frozen biscuits in my freezer and you don't so nah!

2. A Shrimp and Bok Choy Stir-Fry.

This was a most excellent weeknight dinner that I made by whipping out my wok and my rice cooker. In went the rice (to the rice cooker, not the wok) and while that was cooking, I prepped all of my stir-fry ingredients. The secret to stir-frying is to get everything prepped and then it takes two minutes to get dinner on the table. So I de-veined ten shrimp (I don't always do that, but then I feel gross for eating shrimp 💩). I minced five cloves of garlic and about an inch of peeled ginger. I cleaned bok choy and separated the leaves. Into a measuring cup, I poured in about half a cup of soy sauce, half a cup of mirin, a splash of fish sauce, and a squirt of Sriracha.

Then, I heated the wok on high heat and when it was very hot, I swirled grapeseed oil around the edges and threw in the shrimp. I let them brown all over for about a minute, then took them out. Then I added more oil, the garlic and ginger, and when that was fragrant, I added all of the soy sauce mixture. To the soy sauce, I added the bok choy. (Someone commented on Instagram that I should've seared the bok choy in the hot wok first, and that's probably true; but I wanted to infuse it with all of that garlic and ginger and soy sauce mixture, so that's why did what I did). Once the bok choy was wilted, I added the shrimp back and stirred it all together, still on high heat. I put rice into a bowl, topped with the mixture, and sprinkled some sesame seeds and scallions on top. Voila.

3. An Oyster Mushroom Frittata.

On Sunday's trip to the farmer's market, I found oyster mushrooms at the place where I usually buy my citrus. I took it home (well, I paid for it first) along with heirloom tomatoes and purple basil and made the breakfast that you see above.

Really, it was as simple as sautéing the oyster mushrooms in butter and olive oil until golden brown, then adding chopped garlic and parsley. Once that was all stirred together, I added six eggs (beaten with salt and pepper), and topped with lots of grated smoked gouda (Craig's favorite cheese from the farmer's market). I popped that into a four hundred degree oven, until the eggs were set. But to really make it pretty, I broiled the top...

That's actually my favorite frittata technique. Top with lots of cheese and broil. If there's enough fat in with the eggs, they won't dry out, and it'll look so pretty. Give it a try sometime.

4. Pinto Beans with Bacon

Over the past couple of years, I've become something of a bean fiend. My friend Ed sends me a message on Instagram every time that I make beans: "Beans!" I think it's because I read somewhere that they're good for you, and then I read that profile of Rancho Gordo in The New Yorker, and now whenever I see Rancho Gordo beans somewhere (Cookbook in Echo Park, Monsieur Marcel at The Grove), I buy them. I always have about four bags ready to go.

So this week, I decided to make his pinto beans and though the usual technique is usually just to boil them with aromatics (onions, celery, carrots, garlic) and then to finish them in a different pan with whatever you want to flavor them with (bacon, chiles, etc.), I decided to just do it all in one pot this week. So I made a flavorful base with bacon, onions, carrots, garlic, and two chopped chiles in adobo...

Then, to that, I added a bag of soaked Rancho Gordo pinto beans (soaked for only a few hours, I put them in that morning) and covered with lots of boiling water.

If you've been following my Instagram lately, you'll remember that the last few times I made beans, I did it in the Instant Pot. Well I've come around to the idea that the Instant Pot is not great for beans. It's really not that much faster (if you soak your beans, it's about the same) but, more importantly, on the stovetop, you can let the liquid evaporate, thickening the mix to your liking. You can also add salt half the way through (too early, and the beans might be tough; too late, and they might be flavorless). You can also taste towards the end and adjust for heat and salt and acidity. So I'm a big fan of making beans on the stovetop, especially when there's bacon. These were a big hit.

Where I've Been Eating:

1. Dinner By Toby at Harry & Cris's.

Our friend Toby is a most excellent cook, which is not shocking considering that he grew up in Berkeley. This past Sunday, our friends Harry and Cris invited us over and Toby (who's staying with them) cooked us a stupendous summer meal.

The main event was this sauce, which Toby made with eggplant and fresh farmer's market tomatoes that he not only grated, but he took the remaining peel and slowly cooked that in butter and olive oil and stirred that in too. (People asked me more about that technique on Instagram, but that's all I know!)

He also made a beautiful salad with yellow and green beans and a border of pickled red peppers and lemon slices.

We ate outside at a candlelit table and I kind of felt like I was in Italy or in some fancy magazine spread. Here's Cris and Craig, looking dapper:

Thanks to Harry, Cris, and Chef Toby for such a wonderful night.

2. Lunch at Euro Pane in Pasadena.

Last Thursday, I treated myself to a screening of a highly-regarded, international film entitled MAMMA MIA 2: HERE WE GO AGAIN. (It was fun.) It was only playing at a decent time at the ArcLight Pasadena, so I took myself on a little journey and had lunch across the street at Euro Pane, famous for its egg salad sandwich (prominently featured in previous newsletters).

On the specials board, though, was "A Summer Salad" made with watermelon, feta, olives, and cucumbers. I was intrigued, so I ordered it, and out came what you see above. I found the presentation really eye-catching--way more than I expected--but as I ate it, I started to feel like I was drinking a bottle of vinegar. The cucumbers and olives had been tossed in a highly acidic vinaigrette; the watermelon may have been marinated in one; and it was all sitting on Balsamic swirls, so by the end, I felt like my pH level was so acidic, I was like the dip in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Still, I enjoyed eating it; it was a great appetizer to the popcorn and soda that I enjoyed during the movie.

3. Dinner with Winston and Craig at L&E Oyster Bar.

Now that we're dog owners, my favorite restaurants are the ones that we can casually stroll into with our dog. The best one is near the Silverlake Dog Park, where Winston likes to run around like a wild man (though he's very charming, and loves all dogs and humans alike): L&E Oyster Bar.

We looped Winston's leash through the bottom of my chair and then chowed down on oysters...

The clam chowder that you saw above and just to add a vegetable, these healthy potato sticks (just kidding, they're French fries).

What a great summer meal. Winston thought so too (especially when I threw him a fry while Craig wasn't looking.)

Links and Things:
Here are some links that I bookmarked on the web this week, because I thought you might enjoy them (I'm soooo nice)....
* Eli Zabar's Grilled Cheese, Eater
* Sweet Hummus? (No thanks.), The Guardian
* Coconut Oil is “pure poison,” says Harvard Professor, The Guardian
* Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman's Op-Ed "Never Cook At Home," The New York Times
* Carnitas, David Lebovitz
* Sommeliers Pick The Best Wine Glasses for Every Scenario, Eater
* Yo-Yo Ma Plays The Tiny Desk Concert, Kottke
* Nigel Slater’s Roast Plums with Grapes and Blue Cheese, The Guardian

Craig and I are also really enjoying BIG MOUTH on Netflix, AMERICAN CRIME STORY: VERSACE (we had to buy it on iTunes because we missed it on regular TV), and I'm love, love, loving the audiobook of FAMOUS FATHER GIRL by Jamie Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein's daughter, who has the best stories and tells them with great style and flair.

OK, folks, that's all for this week's newsletter. Hope you dig the new format!

Until next time....

Your friend,
Adam (The Amateur Gourmet)