Roses and Ricotta.

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Hi there, so the other day I was at Cookbook in Echo Park (my favorite stomping ground these days) and they were selling roses that didn't look like ordinary grocery store roses, they had a little something extra about them; a certain authenticity. Normally I wouldn't just buy roses to buy roses, but what's that expression? Something about stopping and smelling them? So I decided to splurge on a bouquet and I brought them home and not only are they still alive in a little mason jar on my dining room table, they're really livening up the place. Craig, who's not necessarily a flower person, commented the other day (unprompted) that he liked having flowers in the house. And it sure added some pizazz to the dinner table when we had friends over for dinner the other night.

So the moral of the story is: even though flowers might seem like an indulgence, they're not any more of an indulgence than a fancy cocktail or a movie ticket. So treat yourself! You deserve it.

Now on to newsletter stuff....

What I've Been Cooking:

1. Marian Burros' Plum Torte.

This is one of the New York Times's most popular recipes of all time (if not the most popular) and for good reason: if the measure of a good recipe is the ratio of work to results, this one takes the literal cake. You make the easiest batter in the world (butter, sugar, eggs, flour), pour it into a pan, and cram in as many plums as you can. (See the full recipe here.) Ostensibly you're supposed to use small Italian plums, but I like doing this with a variety of the most colorful plums I can find at the farmer's market. And the results speak for themselves.

Sprinkled with some powdered sugar and topped with a little whipped cream, it's pretty much the best dessert you can make right now while plums are still out there. So get to it!

2. Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Ricotta.

This idea came straight from Nancy Silverton's Mozza Cookbook; it's actually the cover image (subbing mozzarella for the ricotta) and her main thing is that if you see tomatoes on the vine, buy them, then slow roast them, and they'll look really pretty and taste extra sweet and concentrated. The vine definitely adds drama, but all of this would work with just a carton of cherry tomatoes from the grocery store. Toss them with some olive oil, salt, pepper, put them on a rack on a cookie sheet and roast them at 300 degrees until they shrivel and look extra tempting (mine took about three hours, but they were big ones; Nancy's recipe says 90 minutes).

If I had to do it all over again, I might go the Orangette route and roast them at 200 degrees for 4 to 6 hours... I think the gentler heat might coax more flavor out of the tomatoes, but these were pretty fantastic served with ricotta and toasted garlic bread, everything drizzled with good olive oil.

3. Eggplant Risotto.

This one I kind of came up with myself, though I did turn to Martha Rose Shulman's recipe for a little guidance. I wanted to take the flavors you would find in a Pasta alla Norma and work them into a risotto. My strategy here was to make a delicious eggplant mixture with caramelized squares of eggplant and a cherry tomato sauce and then to work that into a risotto made with just onions, olive oil, garlic, and water (water because I was serving it to a vegetarian!).

So let me walk you through it: I cut two eggplants into small cubes, tossed them with lots of olive oil (eggplant drinks a lot, a few tablespoons), salt, pepper, put them on a cookie sheet, and popped the sheet into a 425 oven until the eggplant got golden brown all over, tossing it with a metal spatula a few times.

(Note: that's what it looked like before it got roasted.)

Meanwhile, while that was cooking, I made a super flavorful fast tomato sauce with cherry tomatoes. To wit: I poured in about 1/4 cup of olive oil into my saute pan, added 6 sliced cloves of garlic (that's a lot of garlic), a sprinkling of red chile flakes, and cooked until the garlic started to toast. Then I added a carton's worth of cherry tomatoes sliced in half, sprinkled with salt, and cooked on high heat until all the tomatoes popped and their juices cooked down and I had a thick sauce. To that, I stirred in the caramelized eggplant and also a few leaves of basil that I chiffonaded (yeah, I'm fancy).

Once that was done, I set about making the risotto. This part's easy and a good formula for any vegetarian risotto you want to make: get a big pot and fill it with lots of water and season that water with enough salt so it tastes like really good broth. Then, in a saute pan (you can use the same one you cooked the sauce in, just scrape that into another bowl), cooked a chopped onion in olive oil with a little salt. When that's soft, a bunch of Arborio rice (I used about 1 1/2 cups but I was feeding four people) and toast that in the onion mixture for a minute. Add a glass of white wine (whatever you're drinking), let that soak in, and then start ladling in the salty water, submerging the rice and stirring on medium to low heat, letting that liquid slowly work in... when it dries out, add the next ladlefuls of water. Meanwhile, while this is happening, work in the eggplant mixture little by little. In about twenty minutes, your rice should be cooked (taste it!) and you should've used up all your eggplant sauce.

The final steps are the most important: taste for salt, and then add in a ton of grated Parmesan cheese. I'd normally also add butter here, but there was so much oil in the tomato and eggplant mixture I decided against it. And that's that. Top with more basil and Parmesan and serve. Our friends Steven and Byron loved it (Winston didn't get any, but I'm sure he would've loved it too).

4. Mokonuts' Rye-Cranberry Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

A few newsletters ago, I linked to Dorie Greenpan's take on the Mokonuts' rye-cranberry chocolate chunk cookies and so I knew I just had to make them. Follow that link for all the details, but these were a huge hit: the rye not only adds flavor, but it changes the texture... these had a body to them that made them more interesting than normal chocolate chip cookies. And the process is super fun: you roll the dough into balls, refrigerate, and then after you bake them on a higher heat than normal (425) for ten minutes, you take them out of the oven and tap them with a spatula. It's very satisfying and the cookies are a dream.

Where I've Been Eating:

1. Honey, Hi.

I'm kind of obsessed with the miso chicken bowl at Honey, Hi in Echo Park. It's got the perfect balance of naughty elements (the potent miso sauce that coats the chicken, the rice) and wholesome elements (the carrots, the cabbage, the other green stuff). I'm always trying to find a lunch that feels healthy but also fills me up and this one always hits the spot. The only problem is that this place is popular, so you kind of have to get there early.

2. Sticky Rice.

I've been on a real Echo Park kick, lately, maybe because there are so many great food options and coffee options all nuzzled up together. On Friday, I decided to check out Sticky Rice which is an offshoot of the Sticky Rice from the Grand Central Market. The space is a little odd: a few spare tables inside next to a fish tank, a few scattered tables outside... but it's actually kind of charming.

I decided to try the Khao Mun Gai: steamed chicken served with oily garlic rice, spicy soybean sauce, and a little chicken broth.

It was an interesting mix: the chicken very plain, but pepped up by the sauce. And the broth was soothing. I dug it, especially with my hyper sweet / milky Thai Iced tea.

3. Momed.

We always forget about Momed, which is in our neighborhood but sort of hidden away by the Atwater Village Theater. It's a solid spot, romantic (despite the TVs playing sports by the bar), and the food is good.

I wasn't feeling so great on Saturday night and had to miss a friend's birthday party, so I ordered the chicken soup as an appetizer and I was surprised at how flavorful it was: it had a blast of lemon juice in it that was really what the doctor ordered.

(The picture doesn't really do it justice, but it was flavorful stuff.)

The trio of dips that we ordered did their job (hummus, muhammara, tzaziki).

And we really went to town on the short rib braised with pears (not pictured because my picture of it was extra bad). Normally meat braised with fruit bothers my stomach (not sure why, it just does) but this didn't wreak any havoc and for that I am grateful.

Links and Things:

* Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong, The Huffington Post
* It Will Soon Be Legal To Sell Home-Cooked Food in California (Yay, I can start charging!), Eater LA
* Six Cookbooks That’ll Make You A Better Cook According to Julia Turshen, Eater
* Sheet Pan Suppers Without The Meat (Melissa Clark), New York Times
* A Love Letter To Marcella Hazan’s Other Tomato Sauce, Food52
* Bad Wine Is Just A Great Cocktail Waiting To Happen (Alison Roman), Bon Appetit
* Breakfast Burritos, Smitten Kitchen
* Liam James’s Pistachio and Fig Jam Tart (this sounds right up my alley), The Guardian
* Padma Lakshmi: I Was Raped At 16 and I Kept Silent, The New York Times
* Don’t Throw Away Out-Of-Date Yogurt, Use It To Make More, The Guardian

Culture-wise, we went to an advance screening of the most wonderful movie on Monday night: Tamara Jenkins' Private Life.

I've loved Tamara Jenkins movies since Slums of Beverly Hills, and it's been forever since her last movie The Savages (which I also loved), and this one was worth the wait. It concerns a couple in their forties, played by Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti, who are trying to get pregnant through IVF. As a man who has no children, I've always shrugged off IVF when it comes up in conversation as the most casual way to get pregnant if it doesn't just happen naturally. This movie completely slapped me across the face and woke me up to how harrowing it all can be, which is not to say this movie is overly serious: it's also hilarious. Molly Shannon is wonderful in it. So is everyone else. Anyway, it'll be on Netflix on October 5th and you should definitely watch it.

OK, that's all for this week folks!

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Until next time....

Your friend,
Adam (The Amateur Gourmet)