Monday, October 15, 2012

Oscar's Cerveteca
A neighborhood joint
Oscar Hermosillo had been doing something very right over at Venice Beach Wines for years. That his lamb panini, pots of heated milky cheeses and charcuterie boards could have come out of a kitchen of it's size was mind boggling.  What started out as a small neighborhood wine store quickly sprung into a hot spot wine bar turned restaurant where waiting for a coveted spot on a bench could take well over an hour.  Going to VBW always means battling for a spot but you know the payoff is worth it.  And just when VBW hit it's pinnacle of popularity, Oscar decided to open a full service restaurant next door and call it Oscar's Cerveteca. To Venetians it's simply Oscar's. And it's good, damn good.
Breakfast is a smart if not delicious way to go at Oscar's.  Since breakfast service is relatively new, you'll beat the throngs of Venetians who begin swarming the place by late afternoon.  You must order the bacon, in fact order it straight away.  I've never experienced bacon quite like that at Oscar's. In fact, you can hardly call it bacon as it's  really more like pork belly, thick with the perfect ratio of meat to fat and a nice maple infusion. And perhaps some tator tots as well  -- if just to absorb that last sazerac from the night before. The machaca is excellent: light, fluffy eggs with lean shreds of beef and bell peppers. Even the tortillas are homemade. The frittatas arrive in cast iron skillets and are also very good. I didn't have the chance to try the chillaquilles but hear they are wonderful. And since I am not a sweets-in-the-morning type person, I did't try the pancakes or waffles but would imagine they are stunning as well.

Onto dinner: the must-have starter is the peruvian sashimi in an aji, key lime and corn sauce. I've been known to lick the plate. I cannot go to Oscar's without starting my meal with the sashimi and a draught IPA. They have a great beer selection, both draught and bottles.  The wines by the glass are mostly South American or European and very good yet to me, unfamiliar.  I stick to beer at Oscar's as it seems to compliment the Mexican spices quite well. For entrees my go-to is the churrasco flank steak.  It is seriously good -- albeit a bit on the expensive side at $24. When in a lighter mood, I like the fish tacos. They're reminiscent of trips down to baja -- beer battered and lighty fried with the proper Bajian sides. The quinoa and kale side is very good and a nice healthy addition to a table typically piled high with carnage and booze. 

Another great thing about Oscar's is they take reservations online, on their own website:  Make a reservation, grab your buddies and go have a great night on their amazing patio.  It's a place to gather with good friends in a relaxed, unstuffy atmosphere.  It won't win a Michelin star but it's much more fun than a restaurant that will.  I can't stop going back.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chicken in Hatch chile sauce

I've owned a slow cooker for almost two years and until yesterday, had never been taken it out of the box. I wasn't proud to admit this as it was a gift from my Step-Father. Every time he or my Mother would ask if I had used it, it was with horrible shame that I'd issue the same response, "no, not yet."  It took a recent trip to New Mexico to garner the proper motivation to unpack the poor, neglected kitchen tool.  I was blown away by the flavor of Hatch chiles I'd have every morning over my huevos rancheros on our trip. My Mom insisted that when we returned home, I must dust off my slow cooker and make her shredded chicken in Hatch chile sauce.  We bought several pounds worth of Hatch sauce on our way home and lugged them back to LA. Being that I am on a cooking spree, I finally attempted the impossible: I unpacked the Hatch sauce and the slow cooker! That I could just leave the slow cooker on and go about my day was almost the best part -- but the flavorful, yummy chicken trumped the simple cooking process. Here's all you will need:

This recipe requires three things, 2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, one can of Hatch chile sauce and a slow cooker. Another important lesson, if you can't find a seemingly obscure ingredient, always check whole Foods before lugging 5 lb's of sauce home.  Low and behold, Whole Foods had the same exact cans of Hatch sauce.  There is no fat in this recipe and you can do so many things with the shredded chicken. I made soft tacos with some shredded lettuce, shredded Mexican cheese from Trader Joe's and low fat sour cream.  You can also make enchiladas, tostadas or even eat plain, it's so flavorful and dare I say, moist. Pour the Hatch sauce into the slow cooker, set on low and add the chicken breasts. Cook on low for 3.5 to 4 hours. When done, remove the chicken only from the cooker and shred with two forks. Return chicken to the sauce once shredded.  Two chicken breasts will easily feed 4-5 people. I'll have plenty for the week!  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Barefoot Contessa's Bolognese

Making Bolognese can be a long, arduous process requiring hours of reducing, simmering and stirring -- but this is the quickest ragu or bolognese recipe I've come across. I'm not going to lie, it isn't going to be a speedy kitchen endeavor. Ina calls her recipe "Weeknight Bolognese" but as you can see from my title, I omitted "weeknight" as the only thing I'm doing on a weeknight is reheating! Mrs. Garten suggests 45 minutes total prep and cooking time whereas it took me a good hour and half.  But it's easy and totally worth it and the red wine in the sauce makes it taste like it's been simmering all day. The recipe serves 5-6 people so it's perfect for a Sunday family meal or even an intimate dinner party.  Here's the recipe:
  • 2 Tbsp good olive oil, plus extra to add to pasta water
  • 1 lb. lean ground sirloin (I bought grass fed, 93% lean at Whole Foods)
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 Tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 cup dry red wine, divided
  • 1 28 0z. can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano (Trader Joe's carries Cento brand)
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 lb dried pasta, such as orecchiette or shells to hold up to the thick sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for serving
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup freshy grated Paremesan cheese, plus extra for serving
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground meat and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5-7 minutes, until the meat loses it's pink color and turns brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, pepper flakes and cook for another minute. Pour 1 cup of wine into the skillet and then add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 Tbsp salt and 1 1/2 Tsp ground pepper stirring until combined. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat, simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, splash of oil and the pasta and cook until desired doneness. While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce: Add the cream and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for another 8-10 minutes.  Stir the sauce occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and stir in the 1/2 cup of parm.  Add basil to individual portions and have some parm on the table. One can never have too much parm!  Guess what I'm eating all week?