Monday, July 30, 2012

The Nichols Brothers Choose Sides

Makin’ bacon isn’t a crude double entendre for Jeff and Matt Nichols — it’s something they take very seriously at Sides Hardware and Shoes: A Brothers Restaurant.

“Prior to opening, serving breakfast was new to us, so we wanted to honor our commitment to made-from-scratch and working with the best ingredients,” said Jeff. “So we started playing around with curing our own bacon, the Brothers’ Bacon Steak. When you take a pork belly and go through the process of brining, roasting, and smoking, you then have a choice of how to slice it. Since our product is a cross between pork belly and bacon, it led naturally to a thicker cut.”

Want to read the rest then do so at the Indy's site.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Professor Plum in The Kitchen with KCET

As you know if you read the Indy at all, we're a contest-loving bunch (coming soon: a contest to come up with the next best contest!), so I'd be amiss if I didn't point out there's a cool contest KCET is throwing to our south, and we're all welcome to take part. (I'm pretty sure this isn't a sneaky way to annex Santa Barbara, promise.) The prize isn't just glory, but also a basket of farmers' market goodies.

KCET is celebrating summer stone fruit season by asking viewers like you to submit your favorite plum, pluot, or apricot recipe. You've got till Friday, so go to the contest site for details and make Santa Barbara proud.

And did you know that when Luther Burbank dreamed up the pluot, he called it a plumcot? Perhaps Burbank knew best--that just seems easier to say, doesn't it? And if you're going to end up a hybrid oddity, the last thing you need is a funky, fake French name. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Wishing I was Clever Enough to Make a Good Joke about Big Star's "India Song" and This Post

Summer (at last it's summer here in Santa Barbara, and sorry, rest of the country already broiling, burning, and droughting) has arrived, which calls for long drinks and afternoons on the porch with good books after a morning at the farmers' market. Hence the re-invention of a classic above, what I dubbed the Green and Tonic. And I realize the blog has been a bit obsessed with cocktails lately, but there are a few excuses for that, not the least being writing about cocktails seems easier to do quickly. And, we head off to New Orleans next week for the Tales of the Cocktail, and I'm slowly trying to ramp myself up--it's like training for a marathon, and I haven't found the running shoes that fit my liver yet. In the meantime, this drink....

Green and Tonic

(makes two tall drinks)

1/2 a small cucumber, not peeled, cut in thin slices
1 lemon
8 sprigs lemon basil
4 oz. Hendrick's gin
tonic water (will be less a can)
two cucumber wheels
two flowery tops of lemon basil

In a cocktail shaker, combine the cucumber slices, 8 sprigs basil, and juice the lemon. Muddle thoroughly--really break-down the cucumbers and get the basil to extrude its oils. Add the gin. Muddle a bit more, but watch splashing. Add ice cubes and shake shaker. Evenly divide the contents of the shaker into two tall glasses--it's best to strain as you pour to avoid getting seeds or torn basil into the drink. Top with tonic water to about 2/3 full. Add crushed ice to fill (you do have an ice crusher, don't you? I go with a hand-cranked one, as I can feel even more virtuous having had to expend a bit of effort). Garnish with a cucumber wheel and a flowery basil top per drink.

As you can see, it makes for a lovely color (especially through a frosted glass). then when you go to drink, the aromatics of the cucumber and basil garnish right next to your nose really wake you up. The taste, too, is sublime. Here's a soundtrack for the drink, too:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

This Post Dates Back to Pre-Civil War New Orleans

I don't wear a lab coat or funny glasses, I love a great Sazerac, but I don't think I'd want to drink a Moist Yoga Mat made of Hemp vodka, 12 year kombucha, wheatgrass with a coconut water back.

A bit too much of this is made from just not getting it (people have been putting egg whites in drinks since the days when having chickens and fresh eggs wasn't just suburban hip but just sort of how people lived and ate and didn't watch TV as they didn't have ones to turn on in the first place), but that's satire for you. And a single big ice cube that actually fits in the glass is a good idea. But humor is about exaggeration, I know.

What I say is we should all have a drink and not be so serious.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cooking with the Pros

You know an author is prolific when his book jacket can’t even keep up with his publishing. Though the blurb on Santa Barbara Chef’s Table touts James Fraioli as the “award-winning author of 17 cookbooks,” Fraioli himself explained, “This one makes it number 20.” Whatever the count, the latest Fraioli book is a handy compendium of the state of area dining, featuring 70 recipes — written so that a home cook has an actual shot of making them (no need to buy a sous vide machine, for instance) — from 40 Santa Barbara County restaurants. In fact, the book works so hard to earn its subtitle, Extraordinary Recipes from the American Riviera, with gushy prose and glossy photos that it might leave locals a bit embarrassed by the immodesty of it all.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Indy's site.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Learning to Love Vegetables

Suzanne Landry has been teaching cooking for 35 years, frequently at adult ed for SBCC, and the accumulated wisdom of that time is now available in her attractive book The Passionate Vegetable (Health Inspired Publishing 2012, She recently answered some questions by phone.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Indy's site.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ribs for Your Pleasure

I'm not good at slow and quiet and wordless. That's one of the reasons I most appreciate Anderson Valley, which makes me ease up, silent, willing to let images be images. To slow and savor. It's little wonder the people seem so truly happy there, so helpful. Sure, part of that is they're in a paradise free from suburban blight--not only aren't there chain stores, and that even includes the mildly acceptable ones like Starbucks, but even the gas stations are odd brands--but mostly it's that they're not bombarded with the shit we all think is normal life anymore. Could I live there? Probably not, as that bombardment I'm too much a part of--witness this very blog you're reading. But it sure is a fine place to rest and recharge.

The Boonville Hotel, it turns out, has a lovely serve yourself breakfast, with scones almost as good as Bella Dolce's late lamented ones, and strong coffee, homemade granola, zesty yogurt. Fortified, we head out to Hendy Woods, a stirring stand of redwoods and one of the many state parks California that is on the verge of closing because government has skewed priorities. (That's the photo above.) A good walk gets us ready for some wine tasting, so we check out what's a new spot to me in the Valley, a place that looks a bit too upscale Sonoma-y called The Madrones, but is actually quite nice. We decide to taste at Drew Wines, which sounds familiar for a good reason--before moving to Anderson Valley in 2004 Jason Drew was in Santa Barbara County, making his own wines in the pre-Lompoc ghetto and for Babcock. On our visit his wife Molly was in the tasting room pouring their fine wines--very elegant and more European (that is, not alcohol monsters). If you like pinot noir, you owe yourself a visit here. We then went next door to Bink (the name adapted from "black ink," i.e., yummy red wine), where we had a fine time tasting through their solid to better wines--how could you not like a rosé named Lumineux? Together the two made fine new additions to the Anderson Valley tasting room scene.

That meant it was lunch time, and one of Anderson Valley's secret treats is the very straightforward Mexican food at Libby's in Philo (no website, no surprise). There's nothing fancy about it, it's just going to be some of the best Mexican food you'll have--everything clearly made from scratch with the best ingredients and cooked with the utmost care.

That's my massive lunch, the carnitas fajitas special, that I will not be able to do justice to--so so much flavor. That pork is at the perfect carnitas crunch without being dry in the slightest; I have no idea how they pull it off (beyond they must make each plate individually). And then you can get Anderson Valley Brewing beers, so it all just gets better, at a very fair price. There is one problem though--after that and a couple of wine tastings, it's easy to want to take a nap.

Not giving in, however, we pushed on to one more wine tasting, at one of my Anderson Valley faves, Toulouse. Their wines, alas, are not cheap, but they are all delicious, and that means Gewurtz, Pinot Gris, Rosé of Pinot Noir, and Pinot Noir. Each time I'm there the tasting space expands, and it's little surprise given the quality of wines and the friendliness and knowledge of the staff. Plus when we were there some fellow tasters had a bulldog with them, so we got some dog time in, too.

OK, there is probably nap time after all that, so back to the Boonville Hotel we go and upon entering Chryss almost instantly gives up her pescatarianism. For we are hit, in the most pleasant smack ever, with the enticing aroma of short ribs slowly slowly braising. It's almost as if we're swimming in the braise too, the smell is so deliciously strong it pervades the entire hotel, and we doze with dreams of beef easing off bones into luscious sauce.

Our dinner reservation is at a Valley-late 7:45, so we opt to hang out in the foyer downstairs, with the mild hubbub of others' good times about us at arm's length, and us in comfy chairs, enjoying one of the wines we've bought at a tasting while doing something it seems sometimes you have to go on vacation to do--reading. These few hours are some of the best of the vacation. It doesn't hurt I'm reading Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones & Butter,* to be sure I'm a foodie in every angle possible.

When it's time to eat, we kick off the meal with a 2009 Radio Coteau Las Colinas Sonoma Coast Syrah that makes everything berry-wonderful. The opening of mixed greens with Yerba Santa goat cheese and a cider vinaigrette is light and lifting. The greens come from the garden out back; we had chatted with their gardener that very morning. Now that's fresh and local.

Table 128, as they're billing the restaurant at the Boonville Hotel now, serves one pre-fixe every night, but those with food restrictions can ask for a variation ahead (they set a weekend's flight of menus on Thursday after a round of market visits). That means this is what awaited carnivorous me--beef braised short ribs, hand-cut pasta, gremolata, and horseradish cream. (Chryss has shrimp subbed up as her protein.)

This iPhone photo doesn't do anything justice, of course. The ribs are rich without being unctuous, moist but not mushy, deep but not overpowering. And then they get just the right bright balance from the tang of the horseradish (one of my favorite beef accompaniments going back to my childhood and my mom's Sunday roast beef suppers) and the gremolata proving parsley has a purpose. But the biggest surprise on the plate are the noodles, almost getting to be the bite of the plate compared the long-cooked short ribs, so firm and flavorful. Lots of people do versions of this dish, but Table 128 does This Dish.

Then the dessert is simple, a pleasing first visit from summer at May's end, local strawberries and cream and a shortbread cookie. Anything I could write can only mess up this perfect punctuation for such a meal.

*This is a lovely memoir, btw, as much about family as food (probably more so), and Hamilton's fierce honesty even while her prose performs brilliantly is a sight to behold. By the book's end you can feel almost dizzy how apt she is making clear fate always pulls the rug out from under our finest moments and that our worst moments always retain redemption. Life is never what it seems so we have to keep going just to know the ending.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Brunch, Bistro, Bacara

Ever since Ohana Real Estate purchased the Bacara Resort in September 2011, the once-exclusive property has steadily opened its doors to “regular” Santa Barbarans, starting with a lavish open house last October. Now, the Bacara is using its two restaurants to lure locals in: Miro recently kicked off an all-you-can-even-dream-of-eating Sunday brunch, while The Bistro introduced a new chef de cuisine, Johan Denizot.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Indy's site.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Macaroni-less Feather in the Cap

This cocktail is a Yankee Muddle Dandy, and it was born on the 4th of July. Yes, it is a pink drink for Independence Day, but that's just how we roll at our house, commie pinkos that we are (I mean, if Obama is a socialist, what does that make me?). Even with the sun in hiding for the day here in Santa Barbara, we decided it was time for a drink meant for summer and grilling. We didn't try it this way, having done just one test batch, but it would probably be great with a jalapeno/serrano in the muddling process to give it a bit of zing, too. Seed or not depending upon how hot you like things.

Yankee Muddle Dandy
(makes 2 cocktails)

1/4 a shaker full of watermelon sliced thin
leaves from 5 sprigs of mint
juice of one average-sized lime
4 oz. Hangar One Mandarin Blossom vodka
1 oz. Citronge
mint tops and watermelon wedges for garnish

Slice up some watermelon thin (this is why god made personal-sized watermelons--so you can butcher them for cocktails and still feel good about yourself) and put that in a cocktail shaker. Fill about 1/4 of the way. Pull of the leaves of 5 sprigs of mint and add to the shaker. Juice the lime directly into the shaker. Muddle, and don't be polite about it--you want to bruise those mint leaves so they express their oils and want the melon to mush a lot. Add the vodka, Citronge (or a Cointreau-ish liqueur of your choice), and a lot of ice. Shake the shaker well.

Get out a strainer, as it will be easy to get mint floaties or seeds into the drink if you're not careful. Pour into two, chilled up/martini glasses. Float the mint top and afix the watermelon wedge--so make it a dainty wedge--to the glass rim.