Thursday, December 13, 2007

Abondigas / La Talpa

Out in the lawless, desolate wilds of west Los Angeles, there once stood is an old Mexican restaurant/bar called La Talpa. Ok so it's still there (11751 W Pico Blvd), between Bundy and Barrington. My folks used to take me there when I was little, and it set firmly in my heart (and arteries) a loving place for greasy cantina food. You know, tons of melted cheese, beans with lard, salty hard-shelled tacos, lots of red sauce, guacamole galore.
I remembered a lot of details about the place even before I revisited La Talpa several years ago (it was still as good). It's dark and hot, there's a neon green cactus outside (although I think that actually belongs to the Mexican restaurant next door), stained glass windows... and best of all, a huge mural taking up the whole wall next to the bar of an airplane flying over Mexico with a humongous Corona bottle in tow on a rope.
I never had a corona there, I was young enough where the orange crush in a glass bottle I'd get every time was the best thing about the place. This was before I knew about things like shady characters, health violations, high blood pressure and heart burn.
La Talpa is also where I fell in love with Abondigas soup. The corn cob pieces were my favorite, because they soaked up the soup like bread once you finished the kernels. Anyway this is not La Talpa's recipe, I just made it up an hour ago.

64 oz chicken broth (or 2 boxes)
1 diced potato
1 diced carrot
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 corn cob, cut into 2" sections
2 bay leaves
1 Tbl California chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
salt to taste

2 lbs ground pork
other half of the yellow onion, minced
2 eggs
1 cup cooked rice
small handful of cilantro
2 tsp pureed chipotles*
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
dash black pepper

Boil broth til potatoes are done. I left the carrots out til a few minutes before it was done so that they'd be crunchy. And the corn too.
Throw the meatballs in and cook maybe 10 minutes or until they are done.

*I take a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, add 1 Tbl vegetable oil, and a little water. Blend til I have a sauce, keep it in the fridge in a squeeze bottle**. It's awesome. Great for marinades and tacos too.

**squeeze bottles from Dharma Trading Company are my best friends in the kitchen, besides beers. Searched high and low for months in all the cookware shops and grocery stores before I found Dharma. I use them for resins and chemicals in the studio too.

Shimanese Hot & Sour Soup

There's no story to go with this recipe, but it is a slightly amped version of my Dad's recipe. I remember he used to make this a lot, and it's the best I've ever found.

Shimanese Hot & Sour Soup

1/2 lb. lean pork, coarsely minced or ground
1/2” piece ginger, finely minced
Low-Salt Chicken Broth 46 oz. (box and a half)

soak in water to cover:
8 dried shiitake then rinse, slice thin
30 lotus buds then trim and cut in half

1 box firm tofu 3/8” cubed, rinsed & drained

combine seasonings
2 Tbl soy sauce (Pearl River Bridge Mushroom Soy preferred)
4 Tbl cornstarch mix well
mushroom soaking water drained of silt
2 Tbl dry sherry
1 tsp Tuong Ot Toi (Vietnamese chili garlic sauce)
5 Tbl. white vinegar or Chinese white vinegar
2 tsp. salt
dash white pepper
1 egg scrambled
2 lrg. green onion minced

Stir-fry pork and ginger in a little vegetable oil.
Add broth, shiitake/lotus buds, tofu. Bring to boil.
Recombine seasonings - add and bring to boil to thicken.
Stir in egg.
Serve topped with green onion.

Credit: Phil S.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Avi's beef jerky

One of my favorite things to cook when I was a teenager was beef jerky. And not just any beef jerky. This stuff was worlds better than that teriyaki cardboard in the store. These were thick and meaty strips, pungent with soy sauce and worchestershire sauce and hickory smoke, and covered in minced garlic, black pepper, and chili flakes. Spicy as hell, addictive, and as Avi proved, dangerous in large quantities.
There are many, er well, some things I am generous with, but sadly, food is not one of them. My beef jerky took a lot of time to make, not to mention cost (3 lbs of flank steak at $7/lb yeilded about 1 lb beef jerky), and I confess I hoarded it away and shared sparingly. Just slicing the steak into 1/4" strips and trimming all the fat off took about an hour. After marinading the meat for 5 hours I had to hang it on racks, blow dry it with a fan, and then smoke it for 12 hours, changing the wood chip pan every hour for the first 3 hours. It was quite an elaborate procedure, and one of the only ways you'd ever see me up before 7 am was when I was checking my beef jerky.
My high school friends I were professionals at cleaning out each other's fridges and cupboards. You could say it was our calling card. Over to Mike's house, pour the 6-pack of coke into the coffee pitcher to pass around, empty the nutri-grain box. Over to Fina's, wipe out their stashes of homemade frozen tamales and sky ginger ale. Avi's, straight Mango chutney in a bowl. So needless to say, I was always a bit anxious when Avi, our skinniest friend with the most insatiable appetite, would come to my house after I'd made a fresh batch of beef jerky. I can't blame Avi alone on the rapid evaporation of my jerky stockpile, but he certainly contributed.
Ah, but one day the gods were just. Avi had come over to hang out at my house, probably on a weekend, and consumed 1/2 lb of beef jerky. Covered in chili flakes and garlic, mind you. Marinated in soy sauce and worchestershire, that's like 25,000 grams of sodium. Anyway, he got sick from it and totally barfed. And to this day he cannot stomach my beef jerky. Sad perhaps, but the cows of America and my wallet are better off for it.
I scanned in a couple of my (originally my Dad's) beef jerky recipes, so as to preserve the authentic memos and battle stains.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


As Chris hinted at in his post, my role as partner-in-food frequently results in a little negative nancying (sugar, do you really think pickles dipped in habanero sauce is a good idea at 10pm?) but you'll never catch me raining on a cupcake parade, or really any type of bread or pastry parade.

When I'm not gently hectoring, I pay the bills working at a law firm. Our recent honeymoon in France caused me to realize that one of my favorite roles is as a food tourist. We'll be posting quite a few stories about our delicious and decadent experience in France so more on that later.

The only unpleasant side effect of food tourism is the 10 lbs I gained in France (despite all the walking - grr), so one major theme of this blog will be our efforts at cooking delicious food that works with my weight loss goals.

Like many folks we are trying to eat more locally produced, wholesome and handmade foods and our blog will track our efforts in this area.


Every good blog begins with an apology, and this is no exception, although it may not be a good blog. If I were half as good a writer as I am a cook, I probably wouldn't have to eat my words so often. Nevertheless, food has always played such an important role in my life, I think I have a few stories and recipes worth sharing.
Also, with a memory as bad as mine, I've been looking for a way to record my successes and failures in the kitchen, as well as share them with others. If I remember to type them up here, then maybe they won't be forgotten.
Lisa (my partner in cooking) and I have called it "I don't let my stomach boss me around" because my life has been a relentless battle between my rather sensitive stomach and my incorrigible, thrill-seeking tastebuds. Not all the recipes here will be insane, however. Now that I cook for two, I've had to tone it down a bit. But I shall recount my glory days and unearth my old recipes for those of you who like it hot.