That carrot taco

I love vegetables. They carry beauty, substance and endless possibilities when it comes to cooking. I am challenged and inspired by them in ways I never thought possible. Somehow they make my brain work all the time and I cannot seem to get enough of them. I did a pretty long stage at Rustic Canyon this time last year. I feel lucky to have had the chance to admire the love and knowledge of Chef Jeremy Fox “On vegetables”, and to become part of the family there.

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Chef Jeremy Fox signing his books for copies sold at Rustic Canyon

For this exact reason I decided to go back there. This time in a different capacity.

You know the feeling when an idea takes shape in your head and eventually it collides with something and somehow your hardly born idea makes the most perfect sense and feels so right. This is what happened to me. I had a plan to follow the journey of produce, cooking and people at Rustic Canyon and bring you the visual story of it. Somehow it got fit into that few precious weeks when Chef Jeremy and Chef Andy brought a vegetarian tasting menu to their guests every Tuesday.

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Vegetables

This made my project even more special, more close to my heart and eventually I also think it is a beautiful memory of this special time.

There were many interesting dishes created, techniques used and produce on display during my project.

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Pink lemonade blueberries from Pudwill Farms
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Prity melon, celtuce, fermented leek, borage pistou, marigold
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Santa Rosa plums , plum bay leaf jam, vanilla diplomat, spelt doughnuts

I came home with so many pictures, not really knowing how the story eventually will unfold. Sorting through everything, re-living the days, somehow it all boiled down to this carrot taco. It is a very thoughtful and expertly executed vegan dish, bringing perfect harmony of flavors, textures and beauty.

Carrot tortilla, grilled black nebula carrots, vegan nacho cheese, apricot skin hot sauce, pickled poha berries

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Black nebula carrots just arrived from Girl and Dug Farms and it is time to admire and test.

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They indeed are beautiful.

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Meaty and earthy. After slicing they got grilled on Binchotan coal.

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I know, it is a miracle. When something that has no cheese,  nuts or nutritional yeast in it ….. ends up as the perfect replica of the nacho cheese.

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Vegan nacho cheese made with carrot puree. Chef Jeremy Fox finalizing the flavor profile with pickled jalapeno brine.

Chef Andy’s fermented firecracker chili sauce will give the needed kick to the best apricot sauce Chef Jeremy Fox makes. And you would not believe it, but he uses the apricot skins only and the flavor is so amazing, I suggested big batch production so we can all buy that. So shall we keep our eyes on the shelves on stores near us Chef? 🙂

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Cape gooseberries from Girl and Dug Farms

Aaron Choi at Girl and Dug Farms grows Asian produce.

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And at the same time he also loves experimenting and growing little kinder greens, that I totally adore, for restaurants. His perfect nasturtium leaf babies will be garnishing the taco and also add peppery spice to the bites.

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So much thinking, so many steps, so much work can go into such a tiny flavor bomb. This harmony of textures and flavors from our plant kingdom will leave you satisfied.

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During the years Chef Jeremy Fox has been passing on his knowledge to someone special. So that the restaurant is in the perfect hands, even if he is not around.

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Andy Doubrava. He has that endless curiosity and dedication that only real love and passion for your profession, can bring. During this project I was lucky to be on the receiving side of Chef Andy’s urge to share and educate. He gets excited the same way I do, about produce, flavor and anything new. There could not be a better chef de cuisine at Rustic Canyon. Even when there is a beautiful piece of fish in a bowl, somehow Chef Andy managed that fish not to steal the limelight from the vegetables, but be part of that perfect bite, rounding up the dish.

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The fennel consomme and fennel and onion soubise makes the perfect light and creamy background for the local sea bass, complimenting its airiness every step of the way.

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Fennel consomme cooling down
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Santa Barbara white sea bass
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Chef Andy is giving special attention to those ever so famous Hakurei turnips from The Garden Of Farm, that goes in the bowl with the sea bass.
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Measuring fennel for the consomme
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Mise en place for the dish

 

And rest assured, if you have a sweet tooth (or more), you will be in good hands too. Look at Chef Rose! If a chef can get this excited about the appearance of the first good figs on the market,  she sure loves her job too!

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I witnessed the brainstorming session at the market, where the figs turned into a simple yet perfect plate of dessert in one minute.

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Fig leaves got picked up to be used for plating and decision was made to leave the figs as they are, to be star of the dessert, accompanied by different ice cream flavors that match figs so well. Honey, olive oil and vanilla.

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And Pastry Chef Rose is definitely the perfect match for Rustic Canyon. During the vegetarian tasting menu she managed to bring vegetables into desserts with creativity. One Tuesday her dessert was all about corn.

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Dwelley Farms yellow corn
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corn cookies
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corn pudding in the making

Corn crackling made by dehydrating leftover corn pulp, after juicing the corn kernels. You can find the recipe for this in Chef Jeremy Fox’s book “On Vegetables“.
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The end result. Corn cookies with a sweet corn chamomile ice cream, corn pudding, corn cracklings.

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Only thing left to say, if you haven’t been to Rustic Canyon yet, hurry up and make your tummy smile! Enjoy!

Fermented pickles

I know almost all of us love pickles. Right? Especially the fermented ones. Because there is a difference when you get a pickle with fermentation. Ordinary pickle has vinegar to achieve the sour taste. Vinegar by default blocks fermentation. Which means, using vinegar you will have sour pickle without the benefits and flavor of fermentation. Since my palate is addicted to sour, I love both. But fermented food just has that extra funky flavor to it too, that I can’t resist. These fermented pickles are the star of every summer in Hungary alongside with corn and watermelon. I will tell you how traditionally it is made, and how I manage to make it without a fail now. BUT. I still have questions about the whole process and I decided to get to the bottom of it this summer. Will update you on my findings.

So how is this Hungarian fermented pickle different from the well known kosher pickles? I have tried many kosher pickles since we live in the US. Kosher pickle is traditionally made in salt brine and only garlic and dill is used as flavors. So it should b the same. Almost. Not one of the pickles I tried here resemble to these Hungarian pickles. So I have to draw the conclusion,  it will be the bread. The name of this pickle in Hungarian is “kovaszos cucumber” which means sourdough cucumber.  I did fail many times making this here in California. And the only thing I can think of as a culprit is the bread. “Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast. Sourdough bread has a mildly sour taste not present in most breads made with baker’s yeast and better inherent keeping qualities than other breads, due to the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli.”  I will have a few experiments during this cucumber season and I will try and ferment it with sourdough starter too.

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Important tips

  1. maybe needless to say but use pickling cucumbers (this is a specific cucumber variety) and possibly smaller ones, they can keep their crunchiness more
  2. get some good quality white sourdough bread
  3. make sure the weather is sunny for the next 4-5 days, this pickle is fermented OUTSIDE, IN THE SUN. If the nights get cold where you live, move the jar inside for the evening.
  4. if you add more salt to the brine, fermentation will need more time, if you add less, fermentation may not happen
  5. it is best to stack the cucumbers standing in the jar, probably in 2 levels. unfortunately they were a bit big this time so the 2nd layer had to lie down. It still turned out to be perfect.
  6. for best flavor try and get flowering dill

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Ingredients (I used a 2Q jar that fit 10 bigger cucumbers, see picture below)

  • a clean pickling jar
  • about 3lbs of pickling cucumber, possibly very similar size (amount depends on the jar you have). A 2Q jar can fit about 13 smaller pickling cucumber or 10 medium sized one. This should weigh about 3lbs.
  • 1 big bunch of flowering dill
  • 6-8 garlic cloves
  • 2 thick slices of white sourdough bread
  • 3.5% brine (2Tbsp salt to 1Q filtered water)

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Method

PLEASE CHECK OUT MY INSTAGRAM PROFILE HIGHLIGHT FOR SOME PRACTICAL VIDEOS IF SOMETHING IS NOT CLEAR!

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  1. Wash the cucumbers and cut off both ends. Make sure to taste each and every single end you cut off. If it is bitter, keep cutting off bits of the cucumber until you reach no bitter :). It might happen you have a bitter cucumber as a whole, so get rid of it. PLEASE REMEMBER, ONE SINGLE BITTER CUCUMBER CAN RUIN YOUR BATCH. It happened to me.
  2. Slit halfway each cucumber at both ends, so that the brine can get through the cucumber. Do not cut any cucumbers in half, keep them whole.
  3. Get other ingredients ready: dill, peeled garlic cloves and 2 chunky slices of white sourdough bread.
  4. Stack the cucumbers in the jar, layering with dill and garlic cloves.IMG-5126.jpg
  5. Bring the filtered watered to a boil and dissolve salt.
  6. Pour boiling hot brine over the cucumbers.
  7. Place bread slices on top of the cucumbers and add more brine, making sure everything is submerged under.
  8. Cover with cheesecloth or a loose lid, that will let liquid bubble out at fermentation.
  9. Place the jar outside, in the sun.
  10. Check every day to see there is still enough brine to cover everything, if not, add more.
  11. You should see bubbles and color changes after 2 days. The brine will become cloudy and the the cucumbers change color too.
  12. It will have a pleasant sour smell. Any other bad smell means for some reason fermentation was not successful.
  13. In nice sunny weather fermentation is done in 4-5 days, after that transfer cucumbers into a clean jar, strain the brine, get rid of the dill and keep the pickles in the fridge, in the clean jar, covered in the pickling liquid.

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ENJOY!

A glimpse into the life at Otium LA

 

Otium in Downtown LA is a contemporary restaurant with gorgeous space inside and outside next to the art museum, The Broad.

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It is designed to be a social restaurant with an open kitchen merging indoor and outdoor spaces. The restaurant’s name, Otium, has its roots in Latin, a word that is meant to emphasize a place where time can be spent on leisurely social activities.  http://otiumla.com/about/
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“Chef Timothy Hollingsworth’s 13 year history in Napa Valley, at The French Laundry, blended with his present roots as an Angeleno living in downtown Los Angeles, sets the stage for an environment of sophisticated rusticity with highly eclectic, vibrant and seasonal flavors.” http://otiumla.com/about/

I have dined there before and was impressed by the design and the airy open kitchen space. So when I came up with the idea to do a photography project on the life of a few select restaurants, I decided to approach Chef Timothy Hollingsworth for the Otium to be the first of this series.

I had full support from the staff at the restaurant, and Everyone was very welcoming. They were excited to see those captured moments that would never be seen otherwise. My  project at Otium is now finished.  I left the place with a heavy heart because once again I was lucky enough to have spent time in a kitchen that felt like home.

I hope you all like this little glimpse into the life of this particular restaurant and I will do my best to bring you more!

Let me know if there is a restaurant (in California for now) that you would like to see here!

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Floral and herbal vinegar

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There is not really a complex recipe for making floral or herbal vinegar. You will need to follow only a few steps to make sure you get the most out of your chosen flowers or herbs.

  • For best results always pick flowers that are fully blossomed and not yet started to fade. You can use any edible flowers, that has a unique and strong perfume, such as nasturtium, marigold, or flowers of herbs such as garlic chive, chive. If you want to make an herbal vinegar, tarragon, dill, fresh bay leaf with garlic is a great choice.

 

  • Making floral vinegar I always use either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Anything else would have very strong flavor for the flowers. Making herbal vinegar you can opt for white wine vinegar too.

 

  • Clean the blossoms and shake off any bugs. Don’t wash the flowers because you will lose the fragrant pollens.

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  • When making elderflower vinegar make sure you pick the flowers off of the bigger stalks and use only the flowers.

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  • For the nasturtium vinegar, pick the flowers off the stem.
  • Add flowers in the clean jar and fill up with vinegar.

 

  • Close the jar tightly and let it sit at room temperature for 2 weeks, out of direct sunlight. Shake the jar every day. You will need to be patient and wait out this so that you get the most flavor out of the flowers.

 

  • After this 2 week infusing period strain the vinegar, get rid of the flowers and decant the vinegar into a glass bottle, seal tight and store in the cupboard or fridge.

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Spring time fava and garbanzo scotch egg

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Scotch egg was absolutely one of my favorites when we lived in England. I have been thinking about making a vegetarian version of it for a while now, and asparagus season seemed to be the best time for this experiment. Because we all  know it.  Asparagus, egg and breadcrumb go hand in hand in perfect harmony. For this recipe the most important thing I had to come up with is a vegetarian sausage meat replacement. I definitely prefer using vegetables over tofu, tempeh, seitan. I picked garbanzo beans because I knew that can hold other ingredients together very well. Later I will try to make it work with lentil, just simply because lentil is my favorite legume. I paired garbanzo with fresh fava beans, since  they are in season too, and also wanted to add some of that cooked to the dish as well, to bring more brightness and freshness to the plate.

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So what are the components in the dish?

I decided to serve the scotch egg with simply blanched asparagus. Scotch egg is traditionally deep fried and crispy, so it definitely needed a clean, fresh accompaniment, that is the reason for blanching, and not roasting or pan frying the asparagus. For a creamy sauce-y component I made a fresh, vibrant asparagus tarragon sauce.

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How to blanch asparagus?         

To prep asparagus cut off woody ends and carefully peel asparagus 2/3 up. (see picture above)  Bring a big pot of water to the boil and season with salt generously. Blanching takes a few minutes, s no worries, the vegetables will not be salty. When the water is rapidly boiling, add asparagus and make sure boiling never stops! After a minute or two, depending one the freshness and thickness of your asparagus, transfer them into ice cold water. Now they are ready for any kind of dish to use. You can warm them up with butter/oil, pan roast them quickly or continue cooking for a few minutes in sauces. 

I blanched asparagus, freshly shucked English peas and fava beans. After blanching, I simply warmed them with some butter and seasoned with salt, black pepper and meyer lemon zest. Be careful if you have the urge to add lemon juice, it will quickly take away the fresh green color of your vegetables!

 To introduce my choice of herb, tarragon, to the dish I made a sauce using the asparagus scrapings that you can see in the top picture, as a base. Blanched the scrapings and tarragon is salted water, then dropped them into ice cold water to retain color. Separately sautéed white onion and let that cool and blended quickly with the blanched asparagus and tarragon. Seasoned with salt and ground black pepper. Right before plating added some meyer lemon juice to taste.

See below detailed recipe for the scotch egg, included some tips for making them. It is really up to you what you serve these scotch eggs with . They are great cold, as part of a green salad, or warm with a simple asparagus soup. Scotch eggs may not be the quickest and easiest things to make but they are worth the work.

Garbanzo and fava scotch eggs

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Ingredients (for 4 eggs)

  • 4 eggs
  • olive oil
  • 1 small brown onion, chopped finely
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 3 oz cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 3/4 cup cooked garbanzo beans (or canned)
  • 1/2 cup fresh fava beans, cooked
  • 1/2 T chopped parsley
  • 1 t dijon mustard
  • 1/4 t Hungarian paprika
  • salt, ground black pepper to taste

For standard breading procedure and deep frying the eggs:

  • flour
  • 2 eggs and 1T water for egg wash
  • breadcrumb
  • grapeseed oil for deep-frying the eggs

 

  1. Start with cooking the eggs. Boil water in a pot. Cook eggs in simmering water for 5 and 1/2 minutes, so the yolks stay runny. If you plan to eat some of the eggs later, I recommend cooking them longer, around 8-9 minutes. Cold eggs are just better when the yolk is not runny. Once the eggs are cooked, immediately put them in ice-cold water to stop them cooking. This is very important if you want to keep nice runny yolks.
  2. In the meantime start sweating the chopped onions on olive oil. Carefully cook them until translucent, not to burn them. Add the garlic, cook for a minute and finally the chopped mushrooms. Cook until you get rid of moisture. Let it cool.
  3. Rinse cooked garbanzo beans and transfer into a food processor. Add the onion mushroom mixture, the cooked fava beans, dijon, parsley and spices. Process until it forms a paste with chunky bits.  A few tips : In case the mixture is dry, add a bit of olive oil. If you added too much oil at the beginning and feels too soft, add breadcrumb or even oatmeal. If for any reason your paste is not sticking together, add an egg and mix well. You will need to use this veggie mixture to coat the cooked eggs.
  4. Before coating the eggs with the veggie mixture, dredge the eggs in flour. This step will help the veggie mixture hang onto the egg’s surface.
  5. It is time now to coat the wobbly soft eggs in the veggie “mince”. The easiest way to do this: Place a portion of the mixture on a piece of clinging film. Cover it with another clinging film and with a rolling pin flatten it out evenly.  Take off top clinging film and lift flattened disk, wrapping it carefully around the egg and molding into the right shape. It is a delicate task if you want runny yolks and your eggs are soft. I did break an egg, so take your time. Once the eggs covered in the garbanzo mix, let them cool in the fridge. If you want to make them in advance, this is the stage where you can keep them covered in the fridge for a day.
  6. To finish off the eggs, use the standard 3 step breading procedure to coat the egg: dredge in flour, moisten in the egg wash and coat in breadcrumbs.
  7. Fill a small pot with enough oil to cover whole eggs. Deep fry the eggs in batches if your pot is not too big, so that oil will not cool down while doing deep frying, to avoid soggy coating.
  8. Serve the eggs with your choice of accompaniment, such as salad, cooked vegetables, soup, sauce.

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