Man In The Kitchen with Jeff Baker

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Garbanzo Bar and Grill in Rancho Mirage

Okay, I rolled my eyes when Donna mentioned the name of this Rancho Mirage restaurant she wanted to try. I pictured some sort of vegan haven offering nothing but grilled chick-pea pancakes. My myth was dispelled once my eyes spotted a mound of meat rotating vertically behind the counter.

My teeth sank into our appetizer - tender, hearty mushrooms sautéed in a flavorful, sweet sauce served over a plate of fluffy Hummus which I dove into with a piece of hot laffa (flat bread covered in sesame seeds and flavor-exploding spices). I wiped my carnivorous chops and grabbed the menu – perusing it for more (so much, so little time). We ordered shawarma. The chicken and lamb shavings arrived with a garlic tahini sauce and Israeli salad (chunks of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and parsley marinated in lemony, olive oil, garlic, and mint). The menu offered schnitzel (yes schnitzel), but it wasn’t the 50-pound batter-drenched veal type common in Germany, rather a pounded chicken breast deep fried with a light but crunchy coating served with colorful and tasty saffron rice. On the way out, owner Lizzie encouraged us to return and try her pastries and baked goods, which she boasted were her specialty. The lunch prices are reasonable, but we noticed the dinner menu was a bit pricier. It is a friendly and non-assuming place located in the same building as Albertson's at the southwest corner of Monterey and Country Club.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Salvidoran Cuisine - The Continuing Saga

Beans have never particularly excited me, until a helping of Casamiento (beans and rice) rocked my taste buds a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve turned up my radar to catch as many Salvadorian restaurants I can find here in southern California. This isn’t difficult since most of them are characterized by large signs reading “Pupusas” which advertise the little corn tortilla cakes that have captured my heart since I first enjoyed one grilled by a street vendor in New York (it was a rainy, foggy morning as I stood on 5th Avenue munching that sweet, cheesy cake. The nearby Empire State building suddenly emerged above me from beyond the fog – mammoth and looming, as if to say “Hey, put down that Pupusa and look at me.” Talk about atmosphere). Yesterday, we found Salpicon Salvidoran Cuisine in Ontario. Donna and I were happy to discover they offered a variety of stuffings including spinach and squash along with the traditional cheese, pork, and chicken. Our friendly and knowledgable waitress, Christine warned us right off the bat that the dishes take a while to prepare. In the mean time, we split a large Ensalada – a fruit drink with as much diced fruit as drink. Our chicken empanadas arrived and one bite later I remembered how freshly cooked food is always worth the wait (which wasn’t that long). Our Papusa Loca was stuffed with jalepeno, pork meat, and Loroco – a flavorful Salvadoran veggie. The squash papusa was actually mixed with cheese, and was surprisingly tasty. Donna and I agreed the fried plantains were the best we’d ever had – perfectly carmelized, yet soft. The beans and rice – not bad. We asked Christine to explain the difference between Salvadoran horchata (rice drink) and the Mexican variety. She offered a taste test, which introduced us to a brand new flavor - Semilla de Morro – a ground seed featured in their drink. Good news – it’s delicious, bad news – I can’t describe it, so you’ll have to try for yourself.

Salpicon Salvidoran Cuisine
2252 Euclid Ave Unit G
Ontario, CA 91762

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bourbon Cooking

Bourbon Corn Chowder

When the alcohol has dissipated, bourbon takes on a new flavor which complements food. This dish is fun because you get to flame the bourbon. Be careful!
4 tbs unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
2, 14oz cans of creamed corn
¼ cup bourbon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
2 - 3 drops hot red pepper sauce
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter over medium heat in large heavy pan. Sauté onions until soft. Stir in creamed corn. Heat bourbon in separate small sauce pan, carefully ignite and add to corn. Stir in remaining ingredients and serve immediately.

Braised Chicken in Creamy Bourbon Sauce
3 - 4 chicken breasts, boneless skinless
wax paper
1 tbs butter
2 tbs olive oil
½ onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup chicken broth
¼ cup bourbon
¼ cup heavy cream
Pound chicken breasts between wax paper until thinner and somewhat uniform in thickness. Melt butter with olive oil in large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic and stir for 2 minutes. Add chicken breasts and brown (about 3 minutes per side). Add chicken broth and bourbon, let simmer until chicken is done. Remove chicken and keep warm. At this point, the liquid should have reduced by at least one half. Stir in heavy cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve cream sauce over chicken breasts.

Bourbon Pie (allow several hours to chill)

21 regular-sized marshmallows
8 oz evaporated milk

1 cup whipped cream
3 oz bourbon

chocolate cookie pie shell

Using a double boiler, melt marshmallows with evaporated milk. Take off heat and cool to room temperature. Whip cream and bourbon, then fold into marshmallow mix. Spoon into pie shell. Chill for at least two hours or until firm.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thai Shrimp and Cabbage Recipes

Thai Shrimp with Mushrooms

Find canned coconut milk in the Asian section of your grocery store. Don’t use the heavy, sweet stuff intended for tropical drinks.

12 oz unsweetened coconut milk
¼ cup dry white wine
2 tbs cornstarch
2 tbs water
salt to taste
2 lbs medium shrimp, shelled, washed and pat dried
½ lb button mushrooms, stems removed and halved
2 tbs peanut oil
2 tbs butter
2 tbs garlic, minced
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
½ cup green onions, chopped
2 tbs lime juice

Prepare sauce by combining coconut milk and wine. Chill until ready to use. Heat wok or large skillet over high heat. Add oil and butter. As butter just melts (and before it starts to burn) add garlic. Stir for a moment then add shrimp. Cook shrimp until pink (2-3 minutes). Add mushrooms, basil and green onions, stir for a moment then add milk mixture. Bring to low boil. In a small bowl mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch and water and add to skillet to thicken milk. Stir in lime juice. Serve over thin noodles or rice.

Thai Cabbage Salad

Blanch the broccoli by cooking it for 3 minutes in your microwave oven, then immediately submerge eit in a bowl of ice water – that will “shock” it, which stops it from cooking further.

juice from 3 limes
1 tbs toasted sesame oil
2 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs sugar
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
3 garlic cloves, pressed

2 cups broccoli florets, blanched, and coarsely chopped
1 medium cabbage, shredded
½ cup carrot, shredded
2 tbs green onions, chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup peanuts, halved

Combine all sauce ingredients in large salad bowl. Add broccoli, cabbage, green onions, carrot, and cilantro. Mix well. Top with peanuts before serving.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Udon Noodles with Mandarin Chicken

Mandarin Chicken with Udon Noodles
Find Udon noodles in the Asian section of most grocery stores

6 oz. Udon noodles
2 tsp dark (Asian-style) sesame oil
2 tsp peanut oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
1 can mandarin oranges in light syrup (11 oz.), un-drained
½ cup chopped green onions
1 jalapeño chili (seeded and minced)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chicken broth
1 tbs light soy sauce
2 tsp cornstarch
3 tsp water

Cook Udon noodles per package directions (allow 30 minutes for this process). Rinse then set aside.

Heat oils in large skillet over medium high heat. Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper then brown chicken for about 3 - 5 minutes per side. Meanwhile drain mandarin oranges, save syrup. When chicken is browned, put half the syrup in the pan along with the oranges, onions, jalapeño and garlic. Let simmer uncovered for another 6 - 8 minutes, or until chicken is done.

Remove chicken and keep warm. In a medium bowl, mix broth, soy sauce, and remaining orange syrup. Stir into liquid in pan and bring to boil. In small bowl, mix cornstarch and water. Stir into sauce to thicken. Serve chicken on noodles covered with sauce.

Over medium high heat, brown 4 boneless chicken breasts in peanut and sesame oil for 3 - 5 minutes per side. Meanwhile drain 11 oz can of mandarin oranges, save syrup. When chicken is browned, put half the syrup in the pan along with the oranges, half cup chopped green onions, a chopped jalapeño and 2 cloves chopped garlic. Let simmer uncovered for another 6 - 8 minutes, or until chicken is done. Remove chicken and keep warm. Mix half cup chicken broth, 1 tbs soy sauce, and remaining orange syrup. Add to pan and bring to boil. In small bowl, mix cornstarch and water. Stir into sauce to thicken. Serve chicken on cooked Udon noodles covered with sauce.

Hot Spinach with Lemon and Currants
1 tbs butter
¼ cup dried currants
¼ cup mined lemon (including peel)
1 tsp sugar
1 lb fresh spinach leaves, rinsed and drained
½ tsp nutmeg, ground
In a medium saucepan over high heat (can be done in a wok) stir in butter, currants, lemon and sugar until lemon in slightly brown, about 3 minutes. Put mixture in a bowl.
Add spinach leaves and nutmeg to pan. Continually stir until spinach is wilted, about 2 – 3 minutes. Stir in currant mixture and salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mad About Papusa

Ever tried a cheese-filled corn cake? My first was in New York city where a Puerto Rican street vendor served one up from his hot sidewalk grill. Part tamale, part grilled cheese sandwich – it was simply delicious. Since then, I’ve been on a quest to find something similar here on the west coast. Eureka! Lajamaya in La Puente makes them fresh.

This Salvadorian café is reminiscent of a surfer’s hangout, complete with straw canopies over the tables – which is an appropriate décor for a country that boasts a hundreds of miles of wave-crashing coastline. Several Latin countries offer varieties of this corn cake. The buttery, dense, sweet cake I’d eaten on the east coast was Caribbean influenced and called Arepas. The Salvadorian Papusa I found less sweet and slightly thinner and flatter – my taste buds thought I was eating a soft, thick quesadilla with a pronounced corn flavor. I ordered the traditional cheese filling. Donna tried the chicken filling. Both were excellent. Our delightful waitress recommended we eat them with a condiment called curtido – sort of a cole slaw – which was, surprisingly a perfect compliment. We also enjoyed fried plantains, deep fried yucca, pastelitos de carne (meat pies), and tamales Salvadorenos. Another real pleasant surprise was the casamiento - black beans and rice that had an outstanding flavor (our eyes were rolling it was that good), so much that that we ordered a quart to take home with us. I have never been to Central America, but visiting a place like Lajamaya made me feel one step closer. If the food is this good and the people are this friendly, I can’t wait to get down there. Visit

Sunday, April 10, 2011

This Scandinavian Bar Specializes in Aquavit, But Don't Bring Grandma

The place looked too dark to be open, but Donna and I pulled over anyway, hoping to get a glimpse inside the unusual Seattle bar we’d heard about. We swung the front door open and were happy to find the Copper Gate was alive and well on this rainy Monday night. The bow of a small-scale wooden Viking ship that serves as the bar was our first impression. The cozy, low-lit booths were inviting, but we sat along the copper-topped hull of the ship to honor the local Scandinavian community. The photo-covered mast trumpeted the secondary theme of this place – vintage porn. Looking around we saw similar photos, drawings, paintings, black velvet screens, and sculptures. It wasn’t sleazy, but more of a celebration. Like the way Bucca De Beppo celebrates famous Italians. There were ample black and white photographs of respectable-looking ladies tidying up, or enjoying their garden, seemingly unaware that they’d neglected to put on a blouse.

Pornography seems too harsh a word for what was on display here.

Nonetheless, bartender Jeshua Madden explained that this theme was considered perfect for a Scandinavian bar. I didn’t spend too much time contemplating the connection as my eyes were focused on the freezer case, which boasted six varieities of Aquavit – not bad for a spirit that most people don’t know about – including me until a hot summer day in the 1980s when my buddy Lars Molar pulled a frosty bottle from his garage freezer. Aside from its refreshingly cold blast, I immediately fell in love with the caraway seed infused drink that tasted like rye bread. Lars muttered a Danish toast before our second, third, and consecutive shots. I don’t remember much more. Today you can find two brands of Aquavit at larger liquor stores. The simple Danish brand is most commonly stocked, followed by the Norwegian Linia variety which is slightly darker and sweeter. Until I stumbled upon this Ballard bar, my palette had only known these two. Jeshua poured me Heldig’s Own, one of the three local varieities they carry (okay, one is from Portland, but that’s a heck of a lot closer than Copenhagen). The Ballard-made spirit features coriander and an earthy aroma. Jeshua mixed Donna an Aquavit cocktail – a must try since this spirit is typically consumed straight. She enjoyed her Stor Agurk (Danish for “Big Cucumber”) which included sugar-sweetened Aquavit mixed with fresh cucumber and fennel. I tried a shot of Portland’s Krogstad, the fennel essence of which reminded me of the Italian Sambuca or Greek Ouzo. We couldn’t leave without trying their Swedish Meatballs – served in gravy with lingonberries along side a creamy, buttery, Potato-Celery Root mash topped with crisped pancetta. Ufdah! It was heaven on a plate. One day, we’ll return for Norwegian Constitution day (May 17), which Jeshua explained is their busiest day – with both Aquavit and Danish cheers flowing a plenty.

The Copper Gate

6301 24th Ave NW Seattle 98107

Open daily 5pm to Midnight