Category Archives: Food

An Ode to The Northwoods Inn and their Fabulous Sides

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Growing up in Southern California in the 1960’s and ‘70’s I  got to enjoy a lot of fun theme restaurants. They were somehow an extension of Hollywood and the era that ushered in Disneyland and many other area theme parks of that day. A few remain, but many have been shuttered over the years to make way for malls, freeways and most importantly housing developments as human encroachment took over the land of my birth. We had sunshine and great weather till the people came, then we had traffic, smog, inflated real estate prices and lots of other problems.

One of the few remaining theme restaurants is Clearman’s Northwood’s Inn in Covina. They also have sites in La Mirada and San Gabriel, but mine was in Covina. Opening in the height of LA fun and fancy in 1958 they still manage to draw crowds.

When you drive up on a hot southern California day, your eyes deceive you, it looks like a snow covered Alaskan log lodge. As you step into a North Woods Inn, you’ll slowly pull open a heavy wooden door and peer into a dimly lit and richly decorated room of rustic log walls, massive taxidermied bears, jewel-toned stained glass, sawdust-strewn floors and eccentric hunting-lodge kitsch. The signs tell you to “Please throw peanut shells on floor.” 

You must arrive hungry. Entrees include all you can eat of two salads, recipes below, their famous garlic cheese bread, rice pilaf, a one pound baked potato with cheese, butter, sour cream and mushroom gravy. And then there are the huge steaks!

So over the years I had to recreate the recipes since I moved thousands of miles away from these favorite salads and cheeese bread! Here are my takes on them. Some people mix the buttermilk blue cheese on iceberg with the red cabbage salad, but I like to use the red cabbage as a palate cleanser. The cheese bread is my favorite and I think it is also like the bread at a long gone nearby establishment The Trails.

The Red Cabbage Salad

The Northwoods Inn Red Cabbage Salad 

1/2 cup . red wine vinegar 
4 T. sugar 
3 tsp. kosher salt 
2 tsp. seasoned salt 
1/4 tsp. pepper 
1/4 TBS. grated onion
1/2 cup olive oil 

1 head red cabbage, coarsely shredded 

Whisk together vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and onion until sugar and salt are completely dissolved. Whisk in oil. Dressing can be made ahead and stored in fridge. Bring to room temp before using. Pour over cabbage, toss well and let sit 10-15 minutes. Toss again and serve.

The Best Cheese Bread Ever

Clearman’S Northwoods Inn – Cheese Spread 

In a food proccessor add:

1/2 ts dry mustard 
1/2 ts celery salt 
2 ts garlic salt & 6 garlic cloves
3 tb plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 
2 ts tabasco 
1 ts paprika 
1 lb butter 
1 lb cheddar cheese – grated finely 
3 oz romano cheese, grated
Mix until well blended. Refrigerate

Put onto sourdough bread, place under broiler until lightly toasted.

Keeps 6 weeks in fridge, can be frozen

The Clearman’s Blue Cheese Dressing

They serve this on Iceberg, but I prefer it on butter lettuce

· 1 cup buttermilk 
· 1 cup sour cream
· 3 cloves garlic 
· 1/8 tsp sugar 
· 1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika 
· 1 teaspoon salt 
· 6 tablespoons blue cheese
PREPARATION:
In a food processor combine buttermilk, sour cream, garlic, sugar, paprika, and salt. Blend until smooth. Add blue cheese, and pulse quickly once or twice. Do not blend. You want small chunks of blue cheese. 

Refrigerate 4 hours or more before serving to let flavors blend. 

Yield: About 1-1/3 cups 

Another one of Mr Clearman’s fantastic establisments farther West in Cucamonga, now Rancho Cucamonga still stands, The Magic Lamp Inn.



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Pozole Rojo in an Instant Pot

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When I was in cooking school in Mexico, we went to Taxco, the “silver city” often. I had also been there many times when I was growing up. The hillside town has silver mines and many silversmiths catering to shoppers. With every visit we would go to the Pozolerias for lunch or dinner. If we were lucky,  we would be there on a Thursday we could get the Pozole Verde (green). On other days there was Pozole Rojo (red) and Blanco (white). Traditionally Pozole was made with pork. I know this is gross, but back when the Aztecs were sacrificing humans, they even used human flesh and later, pork tasted more like human flesh. Over the centuries it has developed into a regional stew with pork, chicken or even vegetarian ingredients.

Pozole is the Mexican name for treated corn, also known in the US as hominy. Since maize was a sacred plant for the Aztecs and other inhabitants of Mesoamerica, pozole was made to be consumed on special occasions. The conjunction of maize (usually whole hominy kernels) and meat in a single dish is of particular interest to scholars, because the ancient Americans believed the gods made humans out of masa (cornmeal dough).

This recipe is for the rojo pozole with chicken and it includes home made stock as well as an abundance of dried chiles. In this case I used ancho and guajillo which make a rich and delicious stew.

When pozole is served, it is accompanied by a wide variety of condiments, potentially including chopped onion, shredded lettuce or cabbage, sliced radishes, avocado, lime, cilantro, tostadas (freshly cooked tortilla chips), Mexican Crema and/or chicharrones (fresh fried pork skin).

While this recipe is developed for the Instant Pot, it can also be made in a dutch oven or pasta pot. The cooking time will be much longer.

A note about the hominy/pozole: This can be made with canned hominy, but I suggest you take the time to soak and make your own. It will have much better texture and flavor. You can buy prepared hominy by Rancho Gordo, however, it is smaller than the kind purchased in Hispanic Markets or the kind you will make yourself.  Both will need to be soaked over night and cooked in the stock for about 30-50 minutes in the IP.  If you are cooking in a regular pot it will take 2-4 hours depending on the kind you are using. The Rancho Gordo Hominy takes less cooking time because of the size of the kernels. If you really want the original flavor you can buy large heirloom corn from Anson Mills (my favorite heirloom provider) and make your own. It is an extra step, but well worth the effort. Directions can be found here: How to make Hominy from Corn.

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Ingredients: 

  • Chicken stock made from a whole chicken
  • Breast  and thigh meat from the chicken, reserved
  • 2 cups of dry hominy soaked for 8-10 hours
  • 6 ounces each of dried Ancho and Guajillo chiles
  • 1 onion cut in large chunks
  • 8 cloves of peeled and smashed garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of Mexican Oregano (or marjoram)

Method: 

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  • Drain the hominy and rinse.
  • Put the hominy in the Instant pot and cover it with stock, about 3″ above the hominy.
  • Cook on the bean function for about 30 minutes if using Rancho Gordo Hominy, 60 minutes if you are using the Mexican Pozole. Check for doneness. It should be somewhat al dente, but not tough or difficult to bite into. Avoid over cooking it to retain integrity of the kernels.
  • While the hominy is cooking,  use a large skillet to toast the chiles in even batches. When toasted, break open and remove seeds and stems. Put them in a blender with the garlic and onion.
  • When the hominy is cooked, take off about 1 cup of the stock and pour it into the blender and puree the chiles till smooth.
  • Pour the blender contents into the Instant Pot, stir in oregano and seal. Cook on Bean setting for 15 minutes.
  • To serve, put some of the chicken into bowls and ladle the pozole over it.
  • Serve with garnishes mentioned above.

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Caramelized Onion, Cheese and Phyllo Tart

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Tart on plate

This tart is so easy to make and it is scrumptious. Since I made it for two of us, I halved the recipe that I usually make for parties etc. When serving many people I cut it into one inch squares and place in cupcake papers. This full recipe is made in a half sheet pan. I use a quarter sheet pan for the half recipe.Line either size with parchment paper.

Ingredients:

  • Half a package of phyllo, thawed.
  • 6 onions
  • 4 tablespoons Sweet Onion Sugar (optional)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 box (5.2 oz) Boursin Cheese
  • 2 cups arugula
  • juice & zest of one lemon (Meyer if you can get it)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Splash of olive oil

Method:

Heat oven to 400 degrees

  • Make caramelized onions by sauteeing the sliced onions in a little olive oil. Add the sweet onion sugar. cook down on low for an hour, stirring frequently. Allow to cool slightly,
  • Lay out the Phyllo dough, cover with plastic wrap and top with a wet kitchen towel.
  • Lay out two sheets of phyllo on to the baking sheet, then brush with olive oil and continue the process until all of the sheets have been laid out. Keep replacing the plastic and towel in between layers. Some of the phyllo should hang over the edge. Brush a layer of oil on the top sheet.
  • Spread the onions out evenly on the phyllo
  • Crumble the cheese over the onions
  • Add salt and pepper to taste
  • Bake for 20 minutes
  • Toss the arugula with the lemon juice and olive oil, then top the tart with it.
  • Lay the tart out on a cutting board (just pull the paper out onto the board) and cut with a pizza cutter.

This can be served warm or room temperature. It keeps for a week in an air tight container.

Belgian Beer Braised Short Ribs IP

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Ecstatic Meaty Velvet…. that is how I describe the end result of this dish. Short ribs are covered with spices and then seared, then the vegetables are caressed by the fire and finally the braising liquid of tomatoes, porcini mushroom broth and Belgian Ale are married to the pot. In go the short ribs and they braise for 3.5 hours (or just 40 minutes in the IP) while the sauce concentrates as the veggies become succulent. I served them this time over grits, sometimes I elect mashed potatoes. This is the kind of meal that ends with pristinely clean plates, except for those bones which gave up their marrow in the dish.  A sacrifice well appreciated.

short ribs raw

Here is how you do it, feel free to exchange out the spices to your personal palate, this is just what works for me. You will need 6-8 meaty English Cut short ribs to feed two. This recipe can be doubled, but when you brown the ribs, do it in batches.

spice blend

Spice Blend: 

The smoked paprika is essential,  find it!

  • 1/4  cup of brown sugar (I use TSTE’s sweet onion sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of sweet smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons of garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon of dry mustard
  • 4 tablespoons of porcini powder (optional but rich!)

 

short ribs veggies en place

Sofrito: 

 

4 medium leeks chopped (pale white part only)

4 tablespoons of home rendered lard or olive oil

4 carrots chopped into medium sized pieces

3 celery ribs chopped into medium sized pieces

2 bay leaves (4 if using fresh)

10 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup of dried porcini mushrooms re-hydrated and then strained, reserving liquid

For even more mushroom flavor, add fresh shitakes

1 440 mil can of Belgian ale or Guiness

1 28 ounce can of chopped tomatoes with the liquid

1/4 cup home rendered lard.

Method:

Preheat oven to 375 (I use convection roast setting). Be sure that you will have room for the lidded pot or dutch oven to fit on the rack on the lower third of the oven.

short ribs seasoned

Blend the spice mix and generously coat the ribs with it on all sides. There will be some leftover, reserve it.

Heat the lard or oil in a large deep pan or dutch oven. Saute setting on the IP. Brown the ribs taking care not to crowd them, do them in batches if your pan is not large enough. This should take about 1 minute per side.

short ribs browning

Transfer meat back to a plate or sheet pan and ad the shallots, carrots, celery and bay leaves to the pot and cook over moderate low heat, stirring occasionally until vegetables begin to soften (about 3 minutes), clear a hot spot and add garlic. Cook for 1 more minute. Stir in mushrooms.

Add broth, beer and tomatoes with their juice, then add the ribs and any remaining spices and spoon the sauce over the ribs. Bring to a boil uncovered

short ribs ready for oven

For the IP secure cover and cook on the meat setting for 40 minutes. Or, cover and place in the oven and braise for 3 hours, checking after about 1.5 hours to see if more liquid is needed, if so add beer, stock or water.

short ribs in oven

Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Serve over mashed potatoes, grits or polenta. Click here for the perfect grits/polenta recipe.

short ribs close up

I doubt that there will be any meat left, but if there is it makes amazing tacos. Any veggies/sauce left are great for a soup, just add more liquid and puree.

If you liked this, you might also enjoy Smoked and Braised Pork Shoulder Latin Style.

Best Banana Bread!

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This banana bread is my great grandmother’s recipe except for a single addition, a little trick I learned in Hawaii. It has Cocoa Nibs added. They are pure chocolate which does not have any sugar or butterfat added. They do not melt, but remain crunchy and full of chocolate flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 2 cups self rising flour, plus more for pan
  • 4-5 medium very ripe bananas peeled and mashed
  • 1/2 cup full fat yogurt or sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
  • 1/2 cup cocoa nibs

Method:

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  • Heat oven to 350 degrees
  • Mash bananas and stir in the yogurt/sour cream and vanilla
  • Using a mixer beat the butter, add eggs one at a time, beating till fluffy.
  • Blend remaining ingredients in a bowl and using the mixer beat in a little at a time till fully blended.
  • Place in a buttered and floured bread pan.
  • Bake for 70 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool slightly, then serve with sweet butter!

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Persian Saffron Rice in a Rice Cooker or Pressure Cooker

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Persian Saffron Rice in a Rice Cooker or Pressure Cooker

pomegranate chicken with saffron rice

This is lovely perfumed rice that has a crunchy bottom and a pillowy soft center. You can also do this on the stove, but it works best if you use a non stick pan to make it in.

I did this in my digital pressure cooker which has a rice cooker setting. You can halve this recipe if you want, but it is great for leftovers. I used leftovers of this rice in my Avgolemono Soup here.

I serve this with lots of things, but most recently made it with this amazing Pomegranate and Pistachio Chicken. 

Ingredients: 

  • 3 cups long grain basmati rice
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1  Tablespoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter). If you don’t have that, vegetable oil is OK, but not as good!
  • 1/4 tablespoon ground saffron threads dissolved i 1 tablespoon hot water. (use a sugar cube or a teaspoon of Sugar in the Raw in a mortar and pestle to grind up the saffron threads. You can store Saffron water in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.
  • 3 TBS full fat yogurt. I buy mine at the Indian Grocery. I think it has the best texture and flavor, but as long as you get full fat you will be fine.
  • In the pressure cooker on saute or in a small pan, add the ghee, yogurt, and 1 cup of the rice. Brown and stir till the rice is golden. Put it in the bottom of your cooker.
  • In a separate bowl mix remaining rice, water, salt and saffron threads. Stir well then add to the cooker.
  • Cook on brown rice setting. Or if using a pot, about an hour covered. Put a tea towel between the lid and the pot if using a pot.
  • Allow rice to cool for ten minutes.
  • Turn out on a platter or large bowl, the crust should be on top.

Amazing Chicken with Pomegranate and Pistachio on Persian Saffron Rice

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pomegranate chicken

The flavors of this dish were swimming around in my mind for a few days. Finally, I took the leap and made it. I used my pressure cooker to do the Persian Saffron Rice and it turned out fabulously. There was plenty left over for some more meals. The savory, sweet, sour and crunchy elements in this dish really sang to me. I think that they will to you.

The Chicken

Ingredients:

1 pound of chicken thighs, skin removed.

1 cup of Olive Oil

3 tablespoons hot smoked paprika

5 tablespoons Vik’s Garlic Fix (or your favorite garlic salt blend)

I sweet onion minced

4 garlic cloves minced

1 Tbs cinnamon

1 Tbs ground cardamon

1/4 cup golden raisins, plumped in hot water and strained

2 TBS corn starch dissolved in 3 TBS water

1/2 cup of pomegranate syrup or molasses

1/2 cup maple syrup

Zest and juice of one lemon

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup pistachios roughly chopped and toasted

fresh pomegranate arils and cilantro for garnish

Method:

Sprinkle the chicken with the garlic salt and the smoked paprika. Allow to sit for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours.

Add the oil to a saute pan and brown each of the chicken pieces. Place into an oven proof dish while browning the other pieces then put into a 300 degree oven.

Remove all but 3 TBS of the oil from the pan.

For the sauce saute the onion and garlic in olive oil.

Add the pomegranate molasses, raisins, the lemon juice, maple syrup and zest and juice of the lemon, the water, the cardamom, cinnamon and the cornstarch slurry. bring to a high simmer and whisk while the liquid thickens.

Return the chicken to the pan, including juices and bring back to a full simmer. Continue to cook for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender. While simmering, continue to spoon the sauce over the chicken.

To serve, plate with saffron rice and top with the pistachios, cilantro and pomegranates