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Even when it seems that nobody’s home and things get eerily quiet around here, like minutes before sunrise, don’t think for one second that I lounge with my bum buried deep between soft cushions of a couch and scratch me some balls. On the contrary, I’ve been out and about cruisin’ and schmoozin’. As a result, just the other day, I met Susan Feniger of STREET, and then Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of ANIMAL, another wildly popular restaurant and one of LA foodies’ favorite.

A close friend’s birthday celebration brought me to a dinner table at STREET, where Susan poked her head in between us to say hi and offered her menu suggestions. I couldn’t help myself and launched across the table over a timidly flickering candle, barely missing my friend’s wine glass, in order to shake Susan’s hand. My impetuous plunge landed me right in front of our chef and I came just shy of kissing the woman. I looked up in terror, prepared to be escorted out of the venue at once. To my astonishment, after my less than graceful entrance, chef Feniger was simply delightful, all smiles, and generously opened her door to me whenever I am ready to commit some time in her kitchen. Woot-woot!

ANIMAL is a whole different animal. If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you may remember me mentioning PIGGING OUT at the place just a few short months ago. To this day I have vivid memories of their BACON CHOCOLATE BAR (go ahead and click the link to see the chefs in action) that haunt me whenever I’m craving a dessert. I was so impressed, in fact, with the food and the entire concept behind their restaurant that I finally got my act together and approached chefs Jon and Vinny directly. I prepared a speech, and drove down Fairfax with candy up in my sleeve ready to bribe. I asked for a job, the non-paid kind, an apprenticeship.

My wish was granted even before I finished telling my long and windy story with a trembling voice and sweaty hands. I couldn’t believe how easy that was. And just like that, at 8 o’clock the following morning I was tucked in a truck along with Jon Shook and his right hand Frank heading down to Santa Monica Farmers Market in order to get fresh produce for the restaurant.

Farmers are the only providers of produce and meat for ANIMAL’s kitchen. “It’s all about the love” I was told. How classy? How elegant? And how honest an approach to making food and conducting business in general that is? Think about it. As a customer at a fine dining place you don’t want to be served some cheap rubbish full of chemicals and genetically altered by mad and corrupted scientists. As a restauranteur, you don’t want to cheapen your final product  by using crappy produce of vague origin. Also, by shopping local not only do they support their farmers, but also minimize their carbon footprint! And yes, they recycle at the restaurant as well. I was shown separate containers for food waste, trash, and then paper and metal. One of the staff members takes away all the plastic bottles they collect in a month and takes it to a recycle center.

Need I say more? I’m in love. I can’t wait to join the 2 Dudes, as they used to call themselves, and their team, and see my inner dude come out and play. Did you take a look at that video I told you to click the link to? The Bacon Chocolate one? Go ahead and do it again, this time paying close attention to the chefs’ surroundings. You see that kitchen they’re making the bacon candy bar in? From now on, a few times a week, this will be my office, my lab, my classroom, and my playground. It is going to be a fun and rewarding ride, and you bet I will be writing about it. Looks like we got a green light for Season 2 of my Restaurant Diaries. Woot-woot indeed!

Guys, I have a new fun project and I hope you can help me. I am looking for talented cooking women of certain age, basically raised before the Internet era, who learnt most or everything they know about making food from their mothers and grandmothers.

Take a look at this ad I posted on Facebook and think hard whether it’s YOU or someone you know that fits the bill:

* * *
  • Is your mother/aunt/grandma the best cook you know?
  • Do all your friends look for an excuse to come visit around mealtime, claiming they were “in the neighborhood by chance?”
  • Do your mama’s dishes take you back to her homeland, the country where she was born and raised?

* * *

If yes, I want to meet the women of your tribe.  I invite your Mama/Grandma/Aunt to try her food on me, to show me how she does it, and to let me write about her on ONE MORE BITE. Using my blog, I want to showcase the hidden culinary talents amongst us, with a special dose of love for those who, like myself, had crossed the ocean in search of a new home here in America.

There are ethnic restaurants all over Los Angeles. However, I’m looking for authenticity, hidden away from commerce, where culinary traditions have been cultivated for generations. Whether your Mama/Aunt grew up in Thailand, India, Vietnam, Lebanon, Camerún, Italy, or Sweden, I’m dying to learn the tricks she inherited from her mother and grandmother.

I know there are amazing and highly skilled cooks in Los Angeles, who, despite the lack of professional training, are experts in their native cuisine. Help me shine a spotlight on the hard-working women from your family or community, who express their love through food.

Don’t wait! Contact me ASAP within the comment section!

A glass of ruby red, full bodied, fruity, and very aromatic wine has been recommended by the authorities in the medical field. It’s good for you, in general. I won’t argue with that. I’m stepping on the breaks for a change.

Let’s open with the latter.

I would like to take a moment to talk about the Internet. It is a mysterious machinery I do not understand. I file it under the same category as radio, airplanes, and telephones. It may be not kosher to admit that in public, but I have no clue how those work. Nor do I care really. As long as they do their job!

What puzzles me about the Internet in particular today are those little hairy monkeys from my micro-world, and directly related to these pages. As any committed blogger, I check the stats every day to know who’s coming to visit, how they find ONE MORE BITE, what pages I get linked to, etc. I don’t really KNOW who reads it, relax, unless you decide to tell me about it in the form of a comment, send me an email, postcard or a new Audi TT (black,  please).

What I do know is what phrases Internauts enter into their search engines (like google or yahoo) to find my silly page in the cyber world. Today for example, some horny hungry person, clearly lucking the time to cook on their own, decided to look for “sexy personal chefs” and so typed that into the google search. I’m flattered to have been found. However, just so I don’t get too cocky and my bra doesn’t pop from pride bubbling up in my chest, there’s another little flower here leading to my blog that reads: “kill it before it spreads”. Huh?

People look for Stefan Richter and that restaurant I used to work at, Da Vinci, and find their way over here. The “quinoa and brussels sprouts recipes” entry will also successfully lead you to my blog. If you want a “goat cheese cranberry stuffed chicken”, you’re in luck–there is my Chicken Cordon Blue recipe with these components described in detail among these pages. That makes sense. “Melissa Peterman nipples” or “drop crotch carrot men” don’t.

If you think I made those up, you so overestimate my creativity and wit. I take no credit for the above. Moreover, I beg for an explanation! How in the world do people who search for a “text on indian toilet” find a food blog?? Hello! Google people, talk to me!

I don’t know when and if I’ll get my hairy monkey problem resolved. That’s all for the SOUR part for today.

Now on to the SWEET thing. Why? Because sweet is GOOD. Sweet is necessary to keep balance in your food and then in your system. Sweet is one of the four basic flavors (along with salty, sour, and bitter) that are present in any complete dish. Nonetheless, it’s all about finding that fine balance in anything you do, cooking included. Well… duh.

My sweet suggestion for today are CARDAMOM POACHED APRICOTS STUFFED WITH MASCARPONE. Even though the apricot season is pretty much over, you can make this beautiful and sweet bite all year round, as we’re using dry fruit for the thing.

Once again, I lifted the idea from my handy book called “Small Bites” by Jennifer Joyce that I had referred to previously. Once again, I changed the recipe by an inch and a half after trying once and needing some improvement. I am a big advocate of a freedom in one’s kitchen. Don’t be enslaved to a recipe. Make it work for you instead.

To start, gather the following:

- dried apricots, about 8 oz package

- handful of seeds from crushed cardamom pods (ground cardamom will do, too)

- mascarpone cheese and goat cheese, 1-2 tbsp of each, softened

- fresh mint, chopped, about 1 tbsp worth

- juice of 1 lemon

- 3 tbsp raw cane sugar

- 1-2 cups of water

- 1/2 cup unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped.

In a small sauce pan heat together the water, sugar, lemon juice and cardamom. Toss the apricots in and let it all simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the fruit is soft and plumpy. Remove the the orange balls and let them cool.

In the meantime, mix both cheeses together along with mint. See, Jennifer’s recipe calls for Mascarpone only. However, after doing it her way, I was missing something. The goat cheese will give the whole thing a tang that will take your sweet bite into a different dimension. Also, I dare you to add just a pinch of ground cardamom into the mix. Just do it. It will be fine.

Take each apricot and using a paring knife make a small incision on one side, enough to scoop in a nugget of the cheese mixture. Now dip your stuffed fruit, cheese side down, into the crushed pistachios so they stick to the filling, thus covering up the entrance to the cave. (Yes, I’m a dork, I know.)

Such prepared Sweet Bites arrange in a single layer on a platter , or in an air-tight container, and store in a refrigerator for at least an hour so the cheese sets.

An hour later… VOILA!

Cute, right? And you know what else? SWEET!

Risotto is by no means a light dish, especially if made like the Italians from the North intended it to be. There’s no harm in enjoying it on an occasion though, as it is simply a velvety comfort on a plate like no other. Once you master the technique of making a risotto, you can start experimenting with other grains. I’ve tried it with quinoa and barley, and both grains were just as spectacular in the dish as their ancestor rice.

Below is my Prima Vera version with fennel, leek, asparagus and green peas. Know, however, that your risotto is limited only by your imagination. You can use mushrooms and squash, and meats, all the way to fish. I’ve seen sweet risottos made with fruits and berries. I’ve seen a Farro Risotto cooked with red wine in the place of the stock.

Go ahead, test drive it, play in your kitchen, challenge yourself, and have fun above all. The more JOY you add to your meal, the more flavor it will give you back.

BARLEY RISOTTO PRIMA VERA

Start with allocating the following items at your arm’s reach:

- 1 fennel bulb, cleaned & chopped

- 1 lrg leek, cleaned & chopped

- 3 cloves of garlic, minced

- 1 cup of frozen green peas

- 1 sm bunch of asparagus, bottoms snapped off

-1 cup pearl barley

- 1/2 cup white wine

- 3 cups veg or chicken stock

- lemon zest of one lemon

- 2 tbsp of mascarpone

- 1 tbsp butter

- 1/2 cup grated Gruyere

- salt and pepper to taste

- fresh thyme and tarragon, chopped

- fresh parsley, leaves picked

- olive oil

Making Barley Risotto is not much different from the traditional one, except it’s easier. You follow the same rules as with the traditional risotto, beginning with sautéing the veg. Start with the leek, then fennel and garlic at last, add fresh thyme and tarragon, salt and pepper, and stir occasionally until soft and translucent. Make sure you have enough olive oil in the pan to prevent any burning.

Next add the barley, and toss everything around, allowing all kernels to bathe in those flavors. Toast the grain for about 2 minutes, once again stirring and watching not to burn anything.

Splash some wine into the pot, thus deglazing the bottom. Add about two-thirds of your heated stock and stir. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat, cover the pot leaving just a small gap, so the barley can breathe, and leave it be. Come back once in a while to stir, and check on your grain. If it gets too dry, add more liquid. You may not need, however, the entire 3 cups of stock to cook the barley.

About half way through the process add the green peas and asparagus (cut in 1 inch long pieces), stir and cover again to finish cooking.

When the barley is fully cooked, but still slightly chewy, turn off the heat and add your butter, mascarpone, Gruyere and lemon zest. Mix about letting everything get incorporated evenly into the dish. Taste, fix the seasoning and serve immediately.

Dress with fresh parsley leaves.

If you’re feeling lost in my ramblings, take a look at another dish, my Butternut Squash Risotto, and note all the similar steps it takes to accomplish this Italian classic. Think of it as your light in the tunnel, or better–your GPS through these pages full of recipes scattered across the board.

Your efforts will be ten fold rewarded with the first forkful of your homemade meal in your mouth. Guaranteed.

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