California Vines, California Wines – An Introduction

A few traditionalists may still turn up their noses at wines that don’t have an old-country pedigree, but for the rest of us, California wines have become a staple of restaurants and wine cellars everywhere. In fact, the wine business has been growing ever since the 1970s, when California wines began winning international competitions, breaking record after record. The industry today exports well over a billion dollars in wine annually. The reason for all this success? Coastal weather, fine soil, and American ingenuity.

The first wine made in California was likely prepared by Franciscan missionaries, who needed the wine for its sacramental value as well as its flavor. In the 1830s, the first commercial winery opened, but the wine industry didn’t really develop until the gold rush of the mid-1800s, when many failed miners turned to vineyards as a backup plan. California’s wineries grew without restraint until 1919, when Prohibition became the law of the land, followed by the Great Depression and World War II. The industry didn’t fully recover until 1960, and it has been booming ever since.

California’s unique climate, which millions of people have found extremely agreeable, also happens to provide the ideal conditions for growing wine grapes. This is especially true in northern California, thanks to ocean breezes meeting inland heat and the area’s numerous microclimates suitable for different grape varietals.

Those looking to sample California wine will have a hard time sorting out the great from the great pile of merely acceptable wines. Table wines from Bogle, Colby, and Joel Gott Wines tend to be popular with those looking for a bargain, but oenophiles will do well to seek out some of the better bottles, such as the 2009 Shafer Vineyards Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay or the 2007 Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.


Spice it Up – Tips for Better Spice and Herb Usage

It can be easy enough to grab tried and true spices, follow age-old recipes, and use the same traditional herbs. Indeed, most home cooks tend to stick to tested combinations, like dill and salmon or basil and tomato sauce, which can keep them from experiencing new foods and flavors. The dizzying array of spices at the grocery store may be overwhelming, but with a little practice, it’s easy to transform your cooking with a pinch of this and a sprinkle of that.

As with all things culinary, the most important thing to do is to actually taste and experience the flavor of the ingredients. Take a pinch of an unknown spice, rub it about to release the odor, and inhale deeply; our sense of smell is often far more refined than our sense of taste. After getting a good whiff, proceed to tasting, rolling it across the tongue to hit all the taste buds. The other way to familiarize yourself with an herb or spice is to taste your food as it cooks, allowing the dish to rest a bit before adding each herb or spice. If you understand the impact each flavor has on the dish as a whole, you’ll have a better idea of how to deploy them in new dishes.

Eventually, you’ll find yourself using spices in new and creative ways. Many chefs recommend trying techniques like rubbing meats with spices, making innovative compound butters, or exploring unusual flavors like star anise, achiote, cassia cinnamon, or green cardamom. While some spice experts suggest that there are 15 spice flavor “families,” others tend to think that each spice has its own unique charms. Try a wide range of flavors and see which you like best.

Proper storage of herbs and spices is important for the preservation of their flavors. Avoid keeping the same jars in your pantry forever, as they will eventually lose color and flavor. In addition, keep whole spices unground to preserve their flavor, store containers away from direct sunlight and heat, and don’t sprinkle spices straight from the container into a bubbling pot, to avoid letting steam in. Consider keeping red pepper-related spices in the refrigerator to maintain their color and flavor. With herbs, the best way to ensure you have the flavors you want on hand is to grow them yourself. The most widely used herbs, such as parsley, basil, thyme, and rosemary, are easy to grow and easy to keep.

Worldwide Cuisine – Los Angeles’ International Markets

For those who don’t live in Los Angeles, it can be easy to forget that the city has more to offer than Hollywood movie stars and sandy beaches. However, native Angelenos know that LA is a cosmopolitan global city where the American melting pot has reached its apotheosis. Thanks to the combination of some of the world’s freshest foods and finest culinary minds, the city may be one of the best places to sample flavors from a variety of countries and cultures. While LA has its share of run-of-the-mill supermarkets, those looking to expand their palate, explore new cooking techniques, and find new tastes ought to explore the many international markets throughout the city.

Most will want to begin with the basics, and the freshest produce can be found at the city’s farmer’s markets, the best of which set up shop Wednesdays in Santa Monica and Sundays in Hollywood. After stocking up on produce essentials and other fresh-from-the-farm treats, adventurous chefs will want to take the trek to an international grocer. The first stop for cooks preparing Mexican dishes should be El Mercado De Los Angeles in Boyle Heights, a maze of food stalls and independent sellers. Those uninterested in the drive to Boyle Heights can simply stop at their local Vallarta, a chain of grocery stores that also include specialty shops inside, such as carnicerias, panaderias, and fresh juice bars.

For those heading to the Far East on their culinary travels, numerous Asian grocery stores are highly recommended. Filipino recipes will be easier to prepare with the ingredients found at Seafood City Supermarket in Koreatown, while the nearby Galleria Market will suffice for all foods Korean. The staples needed to prepare Thai cuisine are best purchased in the sprawling LAX-C, while Japanese foods, pottery, and other products can be found at Marukai Markets and Mitsuwa Marketplace. Meanwhile, Greek cuisine addicts have long been devoted to Papa Cristo’s in Pico-Union, while Italian food lovers should venture to Claro’s in San Gabriel or Mario’s Italian Deli in Glendale.

A Recipe for Better Cooking – Picking the Right Cookbook

Many home chefs are familiar with the feeling of looking at a row of cookbooks collecting dust, the recipes within untested and uneaten. It can be hard to find a trustworthy home reference, as the art of cooking is usually passed on from person to person. For the uninitiated, cookbooks are at best an imperfect substitute for a kitchen mentor and teacher. However, excellent cookbooks do exist, and by keeping in mind your own cooking needs and preferences, you can easily build a home library of recipes you’ll turn to again and again.

First, consider what you really want from a cookbook. While many people end up collecting cookbooks with the aim of expanding their repertoire or exploring a new type of cuisine, many people don’t really want a challenge in the kitchen, but the ability to prepare food easily and quickly. Those who enjoy exploring new ingredients and new techniques will want to collect a variety of cookbooks, but the rest of us should concentrate on finding a good reference work. When looking at a new cookbook, try to ignore the pretty pictures and focus on the recipes. Are they easy to read? Do the ingredients seem familiar and affordable? Are the recipes balanced with good advice on technique and inspiration for further experimentation? If the answers to these questions are “yes,” you may have a keeper. It also helps if you find the book’s prose engaging; a cookbook you enjoy reading will be a cookbook you enjoy using.

Of course, it also pays to consider the opinion of experts. Classics such as Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything or Julia Child’s The Way to Cook have many proponents; these tomes pair recipes with guides to kitchen equipment, various cooking techniques, and ingredients. For many home cooks, the gold standard remains The Joy of Cooking, which has been a mainstay on kitchen shelves since the 1930s. Now in its eighth edition, it has won numerous polls, both among professional chefs and home cooks. Those who want a complete guide to the basic elements of cooking likely need look no further.

Not Breakfast, Not Lunch – The Best Brunch Spots in LA

Brunch has been a controversial meal for years now. Chefs tend to dislike the proscribed formula, and restaurant reviewers have focused on the fact that it has historically been a meal focused on getting rid of the week’s leftovers. However, there are few things in Los Angeles more relaxing and pleasant than sharing a sunny mid-morning or early afternoon with friends over mimosas and comfort food. LA is a city that takes brunch seriously, and those looking for weekend luxuries or weekday relaxation will find numerous restaurants that serve brunch with aplomb.

Late-morning dining has a long history in LA, where staying out all night and seeking recovery food has been the custom of Hollywood movers and shakers since the 1930s. Those on a quest for the perfect brunch might wish to start in the Hollywood Hills. The Griddle Cafe deserves its enduring popularity, though those looking for quick seating should look elsewhere. The restaurant’s enormous griddlecakes, which can be topped with an endless array of tasty choices, make the wait well worth it for those who can stand the line. Those looking to linger over a fine drink should head west, where Eveleigh provides brunch-time libations that will bring anyone a sense of joie de vivre.

Venturing further out into LA yields many more delicious brunch choices. In Silverlake, Sqirl offers some of the finest egg dishes in the country, while The Kitchen serves up hearty brunch classics, including fried chicken and eggs with a side of mashed potatoes. Meanwhile, cocktail connoisseurs will want to relax with an expertly crafted drink at Venice’s Scopa Italian Roots. For those who would like to forget the week or make the most of the weekend, the affordable Prosecco at Little Dom’s in Los Feliz can’t be beat, and the Silverlake mainstay Barbrix pairs its excellent menu with unbeatable bottomless mimosas. Adventurous brunch-goers shouldn’t miss Commissary in Koreatown, which features a sun-soaked rooftop greenhouse where diners can enjoy Chef Roy Choi’s fusion-inspired menu.