Monday, August 17, 2009

A Tender Turkey Breast

The Microplane, that ubiquitous favorite of TV chefs and professional cooks across America made it into my cooking drawer a couple of months ago. I usually resist those trends, fearful that their use is all about a cut of the profits for the chef and not the utility of the tool, but I finally gave in and bought one a couple of months ago on sale at the aforementioned Sur La Table. Now I confess that I get an instant thrill every time I use it to zest a lemon or to pulverise a garlic clove so that the natural oils and juices are carried out into the dish in the most conservative and efficient way. I use the zester model, which is a fairly fine grater but there are many many variations and grades to meet your personal needs. Obviously developed from the common or garden woodworking file but with gleaming steel in place of cast iron, I do worry sometimes that I might zest some finger as it is extremely sharp, and I use it with extreme caution in the same careful way I do my mandoline.

I have taken to brining fowl and pork before cooking and it makes a remarkable difference to the tenderness and flavor of the meat, adding garlic and lemon peel to the brine using a microplane. A turkey breast with star anise in a 5% brine with sage and oregano and dry white wine is perfect and imparts a subtle tang to the turkey. What is a brine? We swim in it when submerged in The Pacific, sea salt evenly dissolved in clean cold water.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On The Table at The Americana

One pleasant, recent addition to regular life in my own locale is The Americana At Brand. Located in The City of Glendale, a handful of miles to the northeast of my neck of the woods but only ten minutes away by car. Glendale is a suburban town with a shine, and I like its quick glint. An island swallowed by the sprawl of LA, it is one of the few civic satellites that has successfully maintained its identity and dignity in recent years, at least to this outsider's eye. The Americana was developed by the same group that gave us The Grove on Third Street, that groovy Farmer's Market extension. The Grove is Beverly Hills adjacent, and a place where many celebrities go when they want a small town mall experience with the glitz they are used to, albeit Disneystyle, but don't want the clinical chic of The Beverly Center. At The Americana they seem to have successfully combined the glitz and gleam with its natural, ready made, suburban location.

The Americana echoes the theme of street and park in Main Street USA, so successfully established by the Disney city states, but with addition of residential accommodation above the shops. Pompeii, but upward (see earlier post). A visit from family who were in town yesterday necessitated a visit and there is a particular corner where Sur La Table, a kitchen hardware chain, and, our own superb, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Southern California's answer to Starbuck's, face each other on opposite corners of the southernmost Brand Avenue fa├žade.

We stopped in at Sur La Table for a long and leisurely visit and when we were about to leave, cradling our purchases, one of the most helpful and courteous shop managers called me over politely to test my knowledge. I had examined the store maybe three times in the hour that we were there and earmarked various items for future purchase, funds permitting. As I approached him I could see he had one arm raised with hand resting on a huge brass conundrum that I had already figured for an object of importance. It was, without question, expensively made and shone like the sun. Its grandeur announced the gravity of whatever it was that it was built to process.

The Object was probably four feet tall and cast in solid gleaming brass. It had a central screw-press mechanism with a tiny, graceful drain at the bottom of a small three feet round chamber that would hold the item to be pressed. The giveaway for me was that the supporting legs actually fanned out into webbed feet. Duck? Goose? No matter what the feet as long as they be webbed. Too magnificent to press the ordinary flesh of a fowl, I thought, and the answer came quickly. It was a Foie Gras Press! What luxury! And our man confirmed it when I told him I had already thought about it. Correct, he said, without an ounce of disappointment, and added that he had taken me for a food fan. No matter that I had Sonoma Foie Gras on my mind with possible intent to order a lobe or two, against all political correctness. I was delighted and a bit flattered and confirmed that cooking is a great love. I know why I keep coming back to this particular location. The Americana is a good place to visit, better service than any other Sur La Table in Greater Los Angeles and the way it should always be in any store. Plus, you get to ride the trolley round and round for free (see pic above).