Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Eggslut, LA

Alright, maybe it was the catchy name that got our attention.




And maybe the name accounts just a bit for the long line of people who are willing to wait at this modest downtown LA spot located in the Grand Central Market. But the name is not what keeps bringing them back, us included. 




On a recent trip to LA, we ate breakfast at Eggslut three times, and probably would have even more if we had discovered it sooner.

Grand Central Market is an historic food emporium that's been around since 1917, but a recent renovation has attracted what’s been described in the New York Times as “30 of the best food vendors in the city.” It’s smack dab in the middle of downtown, which itself is shedding some of its grubbiness and undergoing a massive food revival.




The Market is an eclectic mix of old-time vendors and new purveyors, with most displaying uber-cool vintage neon signs. 







Eggslut jumped into this mix last November, and lines have been forming ever since. The times we were there the line moved fairly quickly, but we occupied ourselves by sharing a breakfast appetizer (twice) of a salted caramel croissant from Valerie, a bakery a few stalls away. 




I’ve eaten my share of croissants and I have to say that this genius combination vies for the best I’ve had outside of France. The light, flaky pastry cradles perfectly gooey, dark caramel, with a just-right sprinkling of fleur de sel on top. Our appetites were piqued. And it was a good thing they were. Eggslut specializes in egg sandwiches, but these are not your average egg sandwich. 




The Bacon, Egg, and Cheese is an ideal rendition of this classic combination. Most mornings, this was Chris’s choice and alas, from here on out, it’s what every run-of-the-mill egg sandwich will fall short of. Hardwood smoked bacon, a perfectly fried over medium egg, and warm cheddar all snug within a soft Portuguese bun (a purist, he forewent the chipotle ketchup). 




My favorite was the Fairfax, with a few modifications: scrambled eggs with snipped chives, cheddar, and caramelized onions. I omitted the sriracha mayo, added a house-made turkey sausage patty, and also for a slight upcharge opted for a freshly baked buttermilk biscuit instead of a bun. 




Having gone to college in North Carolina, I consider myself something of a biscuit aficionado and these Eggslut biscuits are the real deal. Good thing these sandwiches are served in a paper wrapper because this one was a mouthful of pure bliss. It was practically falling out of its wrapper. I’m not usually one to skip lunch, but this sammie kept me feeling satiated until late afternoon.




If Eggslut had a motto, it would have to be: Tastes so good but you feel so guilty afterwards. So one of the mornings, I decided to go light and just had a biscuit with a sausage patty and caramelized onions. Even minus the egg and cheese, it was still an oh-so–satisfying way to start the day. We washed it all down with coffee and fresh, raw OJ from Press Brothers Juicery, one stall over.

Being the traditionalists that we are, none of us tried the “Slut”: a coddled egg on top of smooth potato purée, poached in a glass jar and served with toasty crostini. We saw them coddling away in their warm water bath and were tempted, but stuck with sandwiches.




A young woman working behind the counter told us about Eggslut’s history and how it started out as a popular Food Truck. We asked about the line, and she said that it’s pretty steady all day, but starts to let up around 3 pm.




Once we were lucky to snag a spot at the counter, overlooking the small, busy kitchen. We watched one of the owners attentively baste a steak, demonstrating care and technique in his handling of the meat as he prepared it for the lunch hour.




Regrettably we never went for lunch. That will have to wait until our next visit to the West Coast. We ate at many fine establishments during our stay in LA, but Eggslut was, hands down, the most memorable, and the most satisfying.


Monday, June 9, 2014

The Big Boy

I just graduated—from a small, charcoal kettle grill, that is, to a 6-footer, gas/charcoal combo grill that I’m affectionately calling The Big Boy. It’s an impressive piece of equipment, with cast iron grates and a warming center in both sections, and a side burner that I haven’t even tried out yet.




Now that Chris and I have entered the world of gas grills, we don’t have to wait for a block of time on the weekend when the weather cooperates to cook out. We can fire up The Big Boy spontaneously on a cloudy weeknight if we want to. I have the utmost respect and admiration for my purist friends who only grill over wood, but if we’d like to attain that smoky wood flavor, we can always throw in some wood chips.

As an INFJ (Myers-Briggs) and proud of it, I usually have some kind of project going. So for my summer project this year, I’m becoming a grill master. Up until this point, Chris has mainly manned the grill while I prepped everything and organized the rest of the meal in the kitchen. But now that we have The Big Boy, I plan to learn the finer points of cooking over fire, experimenting beyond our usual fare. It'll be a team effort, but I'm hoping we'll whip up as many dinners as we can outside, extending Vermont’s relatively short grilling season for as long as possible. All manner of vegetables taste better on the grill,




as does fish, especially salmon.




And charred bread that’s been lightly brushed with olive oil is irresistible. 




But it’s the meat that really appeals to our primitive selves. Whether it’s poultry 




or beef,




pork tenderloin, 



or sausage,




when the fire hits that animal protein and the scent wafts over the patio, we evolve backwards and start salivating. 

One of the beauties of the grill is that you can easily create a meal that appeals to everyone’s desires—vegetarians, pescatarians, carnivores, and the GF crowd can all have their fill. This makes life simpler both within our own family




and also when friends come to visit. Aside from around the holidays, we tend to do most of our entertaining, both with local friends and out-of-towners, during the summer. The Big Boy will get lots of action over the next few months.




We fired him up last weekend when our friend Steve came to visit. Steve and I met years ago when we were both first-year teachers at Andover. We bonded in the early weeks over something irreverent, although I can’t recall exactly what, and have been friends ever since (I actually was given the honor of officiating at his wedding—a once in a lifetime, at least so far, experience for me). Chris and I were not yet married when I was teaching at Andover, but he came down from Vermont regularly on the weekends to visit and he and Steve soon became fast friends. Over the past several years they’ve been hiking the length of the nearly 300 mile Long Trail together, one piece at a time. As a pre-hike dinner, grilled Shrimp Scampi with polenta provided sustenance before they took on a 15-mile stretch that included climbing three mountains the following day, their own version of the Tough Mudder.  




I had never made Scampi with grilled shrimp before, nor grilled polenta, and the combination makes the regular stove-top version seem dull in comparison. Instead of marinating the shrimp in the sauce before grilling them, like most recipes call for, I just lightly dressed them with olive oil and lemon juice. 




I made the sauce separately on the stove (I could have used the grill’s side burner, now that I think about it, or prepared it over the fire), and then poured the sauce over the shrimp after they were cooked. This way, you don’t lose tasty pieces of garlic and herb. I grilled the polenta too until it was lightly charred, so the flavors of the fire permeated the whole dish.




This new way of making Scampi is sure to become a summer favorite. Another longtime favorite is clams steamed over the fire in white wine and herbs and then combined with chorizo to make a Portuguese feast. 




The clams and sausage are especially delicious when served with a tomato, basil, and garlic salad over grilled bread.




It's only the beginning of June so we have a whole summer with The Big Boy ahead of us. Trying out some new cooking methods on the grill is a large component of this summer project. I’m thinking pizza, tortillas, slow-cooked leg of lamb….Oh, what delights await. Plus, I have to admit, there's nothing more attractive than a Tough Mudder in a floral oven mitt.



GRILLED SHRIMP SCAMPI WITH POLENTA
No local shrimp in Vermont that I’m aware of, but I used local garlic and butter in the sauce, and High Meadow Yellow Organic Cornmeal from Nitty Gritty Grain Co. And instead of the customary parsley, I used oregano from my herb garden.

SERVES 4

6 cups water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt (divided use)
2 cups coarse cornmeal
1/2 cup olive oil (divided use)
1/2 cup Parmesan
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 pound peeled and deveined large shrimp
freshly ground pepper
5 minced garlic cloves
1 dried hot red pepper pod
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon minced oregano (or 1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley)

Prepare the polenta: Bring the water to boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add ½ teaspoon of the salt and then the cornmeal, stirring immediately with a whisk. Decrease the heat to low and cook for 30 minutes, whisking frequently to prevent lumps from forming. Remove the pan from the burner and add ¼ cup of olive oil and the Parmesan. Whisk it well and season with more salt if desired.

Spoon the polenta into a buttered loaf pan and refrigerate for 3 hours. When the polenta is chilled and firm, turn the pan over onto a plate to remove the polenta (it should slide out in one piece). Slice the loaf into ½-inch wide pieces and lightly brush them with olive oil. Grill the polenta slices over a hot fire, turning once, until they’re lightly browned. Transfer them to a serving dish and keep them warm.

Prepare the shrimp: In a large bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the lemon juice. Add the shrimp and stir gently to coat them. Season with salt and pepper. Grill the shrimp on a fine rack over a hot fire, about 2 minutes per side, being careful not to overcook them. Transfer the shrimp to a serving dish.

In a saucepan over the grill or on a stove, combine the rest of the olive oil, the garlic, pepper pod, and white wine and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the butter, stirring until it has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and discard the pepper pod. Stir in the oregano and season with salt. Pour the sauce over the shrimp and serve with the grilled polenta.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Route 100 (Partial) Food Tour

Food tours are all the rage these days, but much as I love food I have yet to sign up for one. I prefer to explore an area on my own and discover its food personality based on my own and my companions’ tastes. In Vermont, legendary Route 100, described as one of the most beautiful roads in the world, lends itself well to a self-guided food tour. Extending the length of the state from Canada to Massachusetts, this scenic route skirts the Green Mountain National Forest and runs parallel to the 273 mile Long Trail, a precursor to and inspiration for the Appalachian Trail. Known as the Skiers’ Highway, this two-lane byway connects many of Vermont’s major ski resorts as it meanders across farmland and alongside rivers, past covered bridges




Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bizarro McDonald's

Very few American cities can claim to not have a McDonald’s within their limits, but Burlington, Vermont, is one of them. A while back a Golden Arches did exist downtown, but in an unusual turn of events, it quietly closed its doors. After an inspired renovation, The Farmhouse Tap & Grill opened up four years ago in its place to fanfare that hasn’t stopped since.




Monday, April 7, 2014

Mmmmmorocco

In celebration of my fiftieth birthday, Chris and I recently went on a long-awaited trip to Morocco. Morocco is a country that’s intrigued me ever since I read the novel The Sheltering Sky, one of my Top Ten, over twenty years ago. I had never been to Africa before, nor to an Islamic country, and it proved to be no less fascinating and enchanting and bewildering than I had anticipated.




Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sweethearts

I’ve been busy working on an exciting project (more on this soon!), so this post is going to be shorter than normal. But of course it’s important to take the time to pause and celebrate Valentine’s Day.