Mixed Use Housing

I’m back, not with a recipe as such, but occasional pieces on food, life, the future and even an occasional recipe. I may or may not change the name. I would love to hear from any of you still reading and I hope you enjoy some of my new pieces.

Every time I drive down Ventura Boulevard I am warmed by the new buildings in Sherman Oaks, Encino and on out. The new buildings are mostly mixed use: housing, offices, restaurants and retail. I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a residential neighborhood that had a little grocery within a short walk which was great, but my dad had to drive to work. This was the beginning of the suburban sprawl or “white flight” as it was so referred. The neighborhoods to the north of me had no markets on the corner let alone restaurants, offices or retail shops. These were all segregated or “zoned” into different areas only accessible by car, bus or the rare taxicab. I remember relishing our little market and wished that my “office” could be on our block. I was 6.

We have crossed over the peak of oil production on this planet, which means that we will have less and less oil at greater and greater prices until we reach a point that, even though there may be oil still in the ground, it will cost the same amount to remove it as it is worth. This means that our reliance on fossil fuels has got to shift. No longer is this just a talking point for politicians, or some far off problem being tackled at MIT. This problem is now on our shoulders. We have to use less and less liquid fuel as a society so the few uses that must burn those fuels (like airplanes) will have enough to continue.

Our food supply is directly effected by this same problem. The combination of mono crop growth (corn and soy beans) taking over our largest farm lands, relegating most produce to be grown in California or in other countries, creates the need for trucking most of the produce across the entire country. This, coupled with our growing demand for meat and meat products has left our food supply vulnerable to big business and the diminishing fuel supply, both factors contributing to rising prices at the supermarket. This means that we need to change the way we eat, we shop and we farm.

Mixed use buildings are one good measure toward a new paradigm that addresses some of these issues. The ability to walk to work, the grocery and restaurants drastically reduces fuel consumption. No, it is not THE answer. There is no one answer to such a complex challenge. This may be the reason that most people ignore what has now become an obvious problem. Without a bumper sticker slogan to drive the point, most will continue to ignore it. If you are one who doesn’t mind tackling complex problems and valuing a multitude of solutions as a means to an improved end then please join me in celebrating mixed use buildings.

How? There are many ways to support this effort. Urging city planning commissions and city councils to change zoning to allow for more mixed use. Suggesting to family and friends the option of living closer to work, school, shopping and entertaining. Leading by example and moving into one of these areas. Abandon suburbia. Grow a garden on your rooftop. Sell your car. Buy a bike. Take the bus.

I know you are saying to yourself, “Who is he to preach to me? What is he doing about it?” We have moved within walking distance of restaurants and markets. With the exception of the rare visit to our sushi bar, when we do eat at restaurants we only eat at ones within walking distance (which means we can also have a glass of wine without ending up in jail). We have a garden that is expanding this year to include another strip along the house and herbs in the front yard. We only use one car. We take the subway downtown and I take it to work when applicable. (LA is way behind in our subway system development). We make every attempt to eat locally grown produce and locally raised meats, cutting way back on meat consumption as well.

Once you start viewing the world through the lens of the realities of what is coming, the happier you will be. The world is not coming to an end, but the world as we once knew it is quickly fading.

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Mom’s Holiday Jello Salad

Yes, I am running a little thin but I thought this one was entertaining. I found this recipe among my mother’s stuff. I remember it barely. You can certainly attempt to make it but I present it as much as a recipe as a remembrance.

Ingredients

  • 1 Box Lime Jello
  • 1/2 Cup Hot Water
  • 1 Cup Crushed Pineapple
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Packages Regular Cream Cheese
  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil (listed as salad dressing in the original recipe)
  • 3 Tablespoons Pimentos
  • 1 Teaspoon Pimento Juice
  • 1/2 Cup Ground Nuts (pecans or walnuts)
  • 1 Cup Celery

Tools

  • Mixing Bowl
  • Stand or Hand Mixer
  1. Place jello in bowl and pour over boiling water. Let combine.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend.
  3. Let stand then chill.

 

Caviar

My lovely wife and I are child free this Christmas. This is the first time in our history together that we have not had at least 4 of the 5 kids for Christmas day. But this Christmas we are sadly, yet blissfully child free. We will have our traditional Christmas eve and Christmas morning, but just shifted back by a day. On Christmas day itself we will miss them terribly until we make our first bloody mary. We will spend an afternoon at the movies and we will miss them once again when we return home, until we pop the first bottle of champagne and have our caviar. I somehow think we will muddle through.

If you are unfortunate enough to have to muddle through with some amazing caviar and a great bottle of bubbly, here are a few tips.

Ingredients

  • As Much Good Caviar as you can afford
  • Toast Points (the more bland the better) or Plain Crackers
  • Shallots, minced
  • Sour Cream
  • Capers
  • Hard Boiled Eggs, finely chopped

Tools

  • Sauce Pan (for eggs)
  • Toaster (optional)
  • Small Serving Dishes
  • Plastic, Mother of Pearl or Ivory (Heaven forbid) Spoons
  1. Place the eggs in cold water in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, turn off and let cook for 15 minutes. Remove and let cool.
  2. Peel and chop eggs.
  3. Prepare all of the other ingredients and place them in individual serving dishes. I use ramekins.
  4. Serve the Caviar directly from its container, either jar or tin.

The rule of thumb with caviar is that the better the caviar the less the condiments. The reason for the plastic or fancy spoons is that any silver or other metal spoon might impart some taste to the delicate caviar. If you are by yourself or just your significant other you may want to eat straight from the container and skip all of the stuff.

The toast can be rye, white, rustic, plain cracker or wheat cracker. Like the spoon, you don’t want anything interfering with the taste of the caviar.

If you can’t find or afford really good caviar, you can still enjoy the experience and tuck into the condiments. I have enjoyed many an occasion with a little dob of so-so caviar with the works. The salty delicacy is enjoyable for the ritual alone, and if you are lucky and flush enough to have the good stuff, all the better.

Grilled Polenta

An old colleague used to always say that there is nothing worse in the whole world than a parent having to bury a child. I can’t even say those words out loud. My lovely wife would break down, as she is right now, mourning those who died today in the terrible attack on a grade school in Connecticut. We all need to do something about such terrible violence. We are better than that.

This recipe is simple and to the point. I don’t have it in me for anything else today.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 Cup Fine Corn Meal
  • 6 Cups Water
  • Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • Olive Oil

Tools

  • Heavy Pan
  • Whisk
  • Cutting Board (wooden if you have one)
  • Chef’s Knife
  • Grill or Grill Pan
  1. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil.
  2. Salt liberally.
  3. Slowly whisk in the corn meal. And stir until thick and creamy. This takes about 20 minutes. Use your wrist and switch off or enlist a partner.
  4. Add butter and let melt. Mix together.
  5. Cover a board with a layer of corn meal and pour polenta onto it.
  6. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, form it into a loaf, either oblong or if you can, like a log. The shape doesn’t really matter.
  7. Let cool until it becomes fairly stiff.
  8. Cut into 1/2 inch slices.
  9. Brush each side with a little olive oil.
  10. Heat grill or grill pan.
  11. Place pieces of polenta on the grill for about 8 minutes a side, until they are stiff enough to flip and have a nice grill mark. Don’t move until you flip.
  12. Cook on the other side.

I love to serve these with lamb or Moroccan chicken. Even though it is grilled, I think this dish is a wonderful winter side dish.

Peppermint Bark

You don’t need to buy this at Williams Sonoma. It is dead simple.

Ingredients

  • 12 Oz Milk Chocolate 
  • 12 Oz White Chocolate
  • 6 Candy Canes
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract

Tools

  • Wax Paper
  • Cookie Sheet
  • Plastic Bag
  • Double Boiler or Microwave
  • Spatula or offset spatula.
  1. Place the candy canes in the plastic bag and break into really small pieces. Use a rolling pin or other heavy object to break apart the canes. 
  2. Melt the milk chocolate. You can use either pieces or broken up bar. I like to use really good chocolate but the bog standard pieces will do. You can either melt over hot water in a double boiler (one pan on top of another) or in the microwave.
  3. Either way, stir the chocolate until smooth.
  4. Add 1/4 peppermint extract and stir in.
  5. Pour melted chocolate onto a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet.
  6. Spread out with a spatula until you have a smooth layer.
  7. Stick in the refrigerator and let cool for about 15 minutes.
  8. Melt the white chocolate in the same manner.
  9. Stir in the other 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract.
  10. Stir in about 1/2 of the crushed candy cane.
  11. Pour over the chocolate and smooth out in the same manner.
  12. Sprinkle the rest of the candy cane evenly over the two layers.
  13. Let cool in the refrigerator for another 10 minutes.
  14. Cut and break into pieces.
  15. Store in an air tight container, serve or give as gifts.

Duck Confit

One of my favorite bistro lunches is the duck confit salad. This consists of an amazingly slow cooked duck leg cooked in duck fat. The origins are a little vague but the essence is that in order to preserve the duck for a long winter it would be first preserved in salt and spices then cooked for a long time then stored in the fat. Since the advent of refrigeration there has been no reason to continue this tradition other than taste, but what a good reason indeed. There have been several short cut ways and I have tried a few. This one is the most successful and happens to also be the easiest.

Ingredients

  • 4-6 Duck Legs
  • Bunch of Fresh Thyme
  • 6-8 Garlic Cloves, sliced
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground or Fresh Nutmeg
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Pepper
  • Lots of Kosher Salt
  • Olive Oil

Tools

  • Chef’s Knife
  • Small Bowl
  • Heavy Aluminum Foil
  • Sauté Pan
  1. Pre Heat oven to 225.
  2. Lay out one piece of aluminum foil about 18″ long.
  3. Drizzle a little olive oil in the center and spread it around with your fingers.
  4. Lay out a bed of 5 or 6 sprigs of thyme. Rosemary is nice too.
  5. Sprinkle about a third of the garlic.
  6. Place the duck legs skin side down over the thyme, arranging them tightly together.
  7. Salt and salt the top side.
  8. Mix the ginger, nutmeg, cloves and pepper together in a small bowl.
  9. Sprinkle it evenly over the ducks.
  10. Spread the rest of the garlic around then another 5-6 sprigs of thyme. A bay leaf or two is also nice.
  11. Fold the foil lengthwise then like a package.
  12. Spread another piece of slightly longer foil out.
  13. Turn the package over and place it in the center of the new foil.
  14. Wrap it up the same way.
  15. Repeat this with two more pieces, turning over each time.
  16. Stick that in the oven and cook for 2 1/2 hours.
  17. Remove and let cool on the stove top.
  18. Refrigerate over night.
  19. Remove about about half hour before cooking.
  20. Take the outer layers of foil off, leaving the last layer.
  21. Carefully cut the solid side of the last layer of foil off. Do not cut into the duck.
  22. Warm a sauté pan.
  23. Remove the excess thyme and garlic. Place the duck skin side down and cook to warm and crisp the skin, about 20 minutes.
  24. Serve over a bed of fressee or other hearty leaf. Optionally, a few roasted new potatoes is also nice.
  25. After all that I will leave the dressing up to you. I’ll have mine plain or with a tiny bit of really good balsamic.