Asanebo ~ a taste of Japan in L.A.

May 22, 2012 § 2 Comments

It’s always tricky to find a “good” restaurant in a new city. I’ve lived in Colorado for almost 20 years after growing up in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. L.A. no longer feels like home, but it’s actually taken most of those years for me to adopt Boulder, Colorado. In part, because all of my family and now my two grownup kids live on the West coast, and in part because I really don’t like being cold in the winter. But I finally appreciate the quiet beauty of snow and the break winter provides for me from garden chores (which start to feel like chores by late fall).

Back to restaurants… I haven’t eaten raw fish sushi for a year or so, one of the foods I avoided while under treatment for cancer. Chemotherapy in particular degrades a patient’s immune system so that it’s difficult to fight any type of infection including food-borne illnesses. I also gave up raw milk, but couldn’t go so far as to cook my eggs until their yolks were firm (I feel safe about the farm eggs I get). So a couple of days ago I happily Googled “best Los Angeles sushi restaurants” to look for a treat for ourselves and my parents. I also checked with Siri on my iPhone and since we didn’t want to drive too far, decided on Asanebo in Studio City which is still in the valley. My dad translated “asanebo” as “asa” = morning, “ne” = “sleepy” and “bo” = guy, or morning sleepyhead. What a funny name for a restaurant! We learned from the waitstaff, that’s the nature of the chef owner who started Asanebo over 20 years ago.

We’re greeted by the sushi chefs behind the bar, “irashaimase” please come in! Although my husband and I usually sit at the sushi bar, we all wanted to sample Asanebo’s seasonal menu so we sit at a table instead. A waiter gives each of us “oshibori”, a small warm wet cloth for our hands. Initially we feel a little pestered by a series of different servers asking us what we’d like to drink. But once we decide and are served, we’re allowed to explore the menu. We settle into a nice rhythm of beautiful and delicious small plates, preceded by a small selection of very fresh and well-prepared sushi (that I forgot to photograph).

Can you read the restaurant’s name branded on the  side of the “tamago” (sweet and savory egg sushi)? The first small plate is lightly poached slices of scallop and asparagus in broth; the salty salmon roe complements their sweetness. Hmmm… I forgot to get a picture of the perfectly blanched and seasoned cold sugar snap peas.

Who would expect that a platter of fresh pickles could be such a hit with their seasonal beauty and variation in sweet-sour-salty crunchiness. Only eat the cubes of miso-marinated bamboo shoots and not the pretty garnishes!

Even the deep fried dishes taste delicate and light; the fast and hot cooking method highlights the main ingredient well. We shared sweet corn cut off the cob and gathered together by crisp tempura batter, along with a small bite presentation of tonkatsu-style Iberian pork with the traditional shaved cabbage and drizzle of salty and sweet sauce.

The shrimp and fish mousseline-filled squash blossom served warm with rings of sweet onion and yellow heirloom tomato was a bit of a misfire for me; the mousseline was overcooked to the consistency of a bouncy fishcake, but probably seemed proper to a traditional Japanese palate. The martini glass gave an elegant and elevated presentation for a concasséd and reassembled Japanese Momotaro tomato and chilled lightly dressed blue crab salad with shiso garnish.

Finales included asparagus wrapped with calamari, quickly tempura-fried then presented on dipping sauce and topped with grated watermelon radish. This dish was a sleeper; its appearance belied the contrasts in flavors and textures the seasonal fresh ingredients provided. Lastly we shared my parents’ favorite Japanese fish preparation, a very traditional miso-marinated grilled black cod. The red-tipped spike is a garnish of pickled ginger shoot.

This meal was a nice reminder of the great eating experiences we enjoyed in Japan three years ago. And although rich sweet desserts are not customarily part of a Japanese meal, somehow we managed to put away a crêpe filled with strawberries and vanilla ice cream at the end.

Nancy Silverton’s gone Italian

May 15, 2012 § 10 Comments

This is the original Nancy Silverton pecan sticky bun from the La Brea Bakery

As I mentioned this morning we’re in L.A. right now, catching up on family time. One of our favorite foodie places to visit is the original La Brea bakery Nancy Silverton opened in 1989, next door to her then husband’s restaurant Campanile. Occasionally on weekends I used to stand in an early morning line of customers that straggled down the block to buy what was probably the best bread in L.A. Chef Mark Peel still owns and runs the restaurant, but Silverton sold her interests in Campanile and La Brea. The news media reported she lost that nest egg in 2008 to Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. But that girl (now approaching her 60’s) has energy, determination and a passion for all things pastry and bread that just won’t quit. She’s teamed up with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich (Lydia’s son) to form the Mozza restaurant group which includes a high-end Italian restaurant, pizzeria, to-go-and-delivery operation and an event venue. Tuesdays with Dorie’s sticky bun challenge was the catalyst for an afternoon’s drive through Hollywood to visit her old and new food stomping grounds–fun, delicious and expensive!

I feel like a tourist on our drive through Hollywood past the palm tree studded streets and hillsides. Must be a Marilyn Monroe look alike in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

I always shopped in the morning after making the long drive one day and the bakery had closed early because they sold out of bread! The loaves I got today looked beautiful, but were a little dry. Sigh…

Mozza2Go is only a few blocks away on our way back. Silverton’s focaccia has an open stretchy crumb and a generous dousing of olive oil pools in all the crevices. The bread is fragrant and salty, more about texture than flavor, beautiful and delicious. The antipasti and salads are very fresh and flavorful, making the perfect warm spring evening al fresco dinner. For dessert, we nibble on La Brea’s chocolate sour cherry bread and share Mozza’s butterscotch budino (Italian pudding), both signature Silverton creations. You can learn about Mozza Cookbook here and enjoy a few recipes from the book here.

apricot pecan cinna-buns

May 15, 2012 § 12 Comments

Published over 25 years ago, Baking with Julia is not shy about the butter. After all the cookbook is based on Julia Child’s PBS television series, and one of her famous lines is “If you are afraid of butter, use cream.” A young Nancy Silverton, known more for her artisanal sourdough breads than excessive use of butter, shows she can be right at home in Julia’s kitchen, with her brioche-based pecan sticky buns weighing in at over a pound of butter and 3/4 pound of sugar for a dozen or so buns. I reduced both ingredients by more than half, and we still enjoyed a rich and sweet breakfast treat. Although not as deliciously decadent as the originals, at least we lived to tell about it.

The recipe begins with an unusual method of proofing a sponge under half of its flour. When the flour “cracks”, you have a clear indicator that the sponge is ready to use. I’m in L.A. baking at sea level this month. My mom’s KitchenAid mixer is probably close to 50 years old, so I baby the old girl and skimp on the mixing time and keep the speed on low.

This is the softest stickiest brioche dough I’ve ever made (I only add 4 oz. instead of 6 oz. of very soft butter, but make it up with 1/4 cup of full fat yogurt). Since the sponge was really active, I decide to skip the room temperature rise and put it directly into the refrigerator for an overnight rise. It almost doubles overnight.

I decided to skip Nancy’s signature technique of laminating 6 more ounces of butter into the chilled dough. Instead I made a filling by beating 3 oz. of very soft butter with 2/3 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt.

I toast then chop 1 cup of pecans and chop 1/2 cup of California Bleinheim apricots. I line the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment. Only when everything is ready do I take the dough out of the refrigerator. I’m going to roll out all of the dough instead of doing half at a time, so I need to work fast so it doesn’t warm up and get sticky. To save more time I also want to get the buns into the pan without having to re-chill the dough (think how late can I sleep and still have these in the morning).

The cinnamon butter sugar mixture doesn’t look like enough but easily covers the full batch of rolled out dough

Sprinkle your choice of goodies over the filling and then gently but quickly roll up towards the “naked” edge which will stick and hold everything inside. Brush off any excess flour with a pastry brush, and if the dough sticks to the board, free it with a knife or other metal edge.

It’s easiest to mark then cut the roll into halves, then quarters and then cut each quarter into 4 pieces. The ends are smaller, so I stuff them into the center of the pan, arranging the rest of the buns in a 3 x 5 pattern. In less than an hour, the buns have proofed to fill the pan and are ready to bake. (My lighting isn’t consistent, but yes, the dough was a beautiful golden yellow from the farm eggs I used.)

Since I’m using a bigger pan than the recipe specified, I reduce the baking temperature slightly to 325°F and bake until the tops are pretty evenly browned. This dough is so moist, tender and rich I don’t really miss the sticky topping, and using a buttery filling gives a similar effect to laminating, while saving a lot of time. The shortcuts also cut down on the messes and cleanup time, so I’ll probably stick to doing these cinna-buns instead of sticky buns. This is my new favorite brioche recipe though, and you can find links to the recipe, plus other bakers’ buns at Tuesdays with Dorie.

flowers for Mother’s day

May 13, 2012 § 4 Comments

“April showers bring May flowers”, but we experienced all those blooms almost a month early in Colorado. Right now, I’m catching up with my family in SoCal, but here’s a sampling from my Front Range garden last month. Enjoy, and Happy Mother’s Day to all you mom’s out there!

Snowy bird feeder and icy table and chairs after an early April dusting.

Peach tree in full pink bloom.

Flowering quince in apricot and coral are the first shrubs to bloom.

Early greenery provides needed ground coverage and texture.

Wind flowers and a few species tulips make an early showing.

Hellebores (Lenten rose) amazes me with its early showy blooms and foliage, while a small honey crisp apple tree blooms profusely this year and is a-buzz with bees.

Perennial Corsican violets pop up in the herb bed.

The last tulips and the first coral bells splash the garden with bright patches of red and pink.

Several types of hosta and the Japanese fern cover the ground with intricate patterns of shape and color.

Showy fragrant clematis and a small fern leaf species peony.

When we return from our trip, we’ll find out how the fruit trees have fared, and if momma robin has hatched her clutch of eggs in the apricot tree!

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