Cornish Hen – 5/9/10

Roasted chicken is such a simple dish, and is something that can also be very satisfying. A roasted whole chicken is a great way to economically serve a number of people. At it’s most basic, all one needs is a chicken and some seasonings. While very simple, a lot can go wrong in the dish. The breast meat is often overcooked, or the dark meat undercooked, as they both cook at different speeds. In addition, it can be difficult to get a nicely browned, crisp skin on the bird. The heat needs to be just right – if the heat is too high, the skin will burn before the meat is done; if it is too low, the meat will cook before you get any browning.

In this case, I chose to prepare a cornish hen. As these are somewhat like “small chickens,” if I screwed it up, I wouldn’t be stuck with a whole chicken to eat. In addition, it was easy to buy two of them, so that I could work out any kinks in the first preparation to improve on the second try.

I brined both of my hens in a brine of salt, peppercorns, sugar, bay leaves, fresh parsley, fresh rosemary, and fresh thyme. This would be a very flavorful brine, I hoped.

brine 500x335 Cornish Hen   5/9/10

Upon brining overnight, I rinsed and air-dried the hens in the refrigerator.

raw 500x335 Cornish Hen   5/9/10

When I was ready to cook, I stuffed the cavity of the bird with garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley and butter. I then trussed the chicken, seasoned it all over, and topped it with a layer of butter and chopped thyme.
prepped1 500x335 Cornish Hen   5/9/10

Unfortunately, the skin broke at the top, effectively ending my quest for a crisp skin right there. I cooked my bird at 425 degrees, expecting it to take about half an hour. Using my instant read thermometer, the bird didn’t reach my desired doneness (160 degrees) until a whole hour in the oven.

cooked1 500x335 Cornish Hen   5/9/10

I definitely did not get the browning I wanted. Next time, I would have to use a hotter oven. Upon carving the hen, it was noticeably very juicy. I’d like to think the brine was a big reason why – as both birds were subject to this, I had a hard time knowing how much of the juiciness was attributable to the brine. I then made a jus out of the pan drippings, mixing in chicken stock, a bunch of fresh herbs, and butter.

carved1 500x335 Cornish Hen   5/9/10

I also roasted some potatoes, finishing them in the drippings from the hen.

potatoes1 500x335 Cornish Hen   5/9/10

I was fairly pleased with this hen. Using a thermometer ensured that the hen was cooked to the desired doneness. I didn’t get the browning I wanted, but the meat was pretty juicy and flavorful. The breast was not dry, though it wasn’t overly moist, either.

For my next hen, I was sure to try to make sure it was as dry as possible before cooking – one of the keys to a crispy skin. I was also going to use a much hotter oven, in order to get some better browning. Again, I stuffed with hen with garlic and fresh herbs and trussed it. Butter, salt and pepper was all I put on the chicken.

prepped2 500x335 Cornish Hen   5/9/10

This time I used an oven of 475 degrees. The bird reached 160 degrees in about 40 minutes.
cooked2 500x335 Cornish Hen   5/9/10

The browning was much better this time around, and the skin was kinda crispy. Just kinda. I realize, with such a small bird, it’s kinda hard to get my ideal browning all around.

Again, this hen was extremely juicy upon cutting into it, with juices running all over the cutting board.

carved2 500x335 Cornish Hen   5/9/10

I made the jus similar to the last time, but this time I elected to serve the jus separate, as a dipping sauce. The flavors of the meat would be much more apparent by itself.
chicken jus 500x335 Cornish Hen   5/9/10

To go along, I made some potatoes separate. These didn’t turn out too well. I parboiled them too long, and overcrowded my pan when I was trying to crisp them up.
potatoes2 500x335 Cornish Hen   5/9/10

I drizzled a little white truffle oil on them to add some extra depth of flavor.

truffle oil 224x335 Cornish Hen   5/9/10

The meat was cooked very similar to the last bird. The dark meat was wonderfully juicy, and the breast meat..while not dry, wasn’t overly moist. The jus helped a lot though. I was quite surprised with both jus, as I often am not very successful at making pan sauces.  In all, I was pretty satisfied with my cornish hens – they turned out better than I expected. I might be ready to move on to a whole chicken next.

Father’s Office – 5/8/10

Father’s Office
3229 Helms Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Father’s Office is one of the best (in my opinion – the best) gastropubs in Los Angeles. In my opinion, they also have the best burger in the city. Granted, I haven’t tried a number of the chief competitors (Umami Burger , Rustic Canyon, 8 oz., Foundry come to mind), but this burger has so far been my #1 – taking into account the Counter, Lazy Ox, 25 Degrees, Pie ‘n Burger, Back Abbey, and Golden State. This was the first stop in a mini tour of burgers/gastropubs with Golden State.

FO exterior 500x335 Fathers Office   5/8/10

Father’s Office is an extremely popular spot, with those seeking chef Sang Yoon’s gourmet fare for reasonable prices, top-notch beers,  or just a place open late with food and drink. Yoon, who comes from a fine dining background, is one of the first in the trend of fine dining restaurateurs opening up burger joints.  While the menu consists of a number of great dishes, the biggest draw is the burger.

Office Burger – dry-aged strip steak, blue cheese, arugula and bacon-onion compote on French bread
FO burger 500x335 Fathers Office   5/8/10

FO burger2 500x335 Fathers Office   5/8/10

The patty was a nicely cooked medium-rare – so juicy that the bottom of the bun was getting a bit soggy. I don’t think the French bread bun is anything special, and would maybe prefer a brioche-type, or something softer. The caramelized onions add a nice sweetness to counteract the arugula’s bite, and really go well with the beefy meat. A very rich burger – it’s definitely the best I’ve had in LA.

sweet potato fries 500x335 Fathers Office   5/8/10

The sweet potato fries are also a big draw and are delicious. Nicely crisp, with a soft, moist interior.

pliny 500x335 Fathers Office   5/8/10

TO paid with my burger, I had one of my favorite beers – Pliny the Elder. Father’s Office is one of only a handful of bars in the city to offer Pliny.

Father Office rarely disappoints. The biggest drawback, however, is that it gets so damn crowded all the time. Given the quality of the food, the impressive selection of beers and wines, and the relaxed atmosphere – it’s no wonder why it’s so popular.

The Golden State – 5/8/10

The Golden State
426 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036

After visiting Father’s Office, the second stop in our burger/gastropub mini-tour was The Golden State.  Similar to Father’s Office, The Golden State’s claim to fame is their beer selection, their burgers, and, uniquely, their beer floats (made with Scoops ice cream). I had to give their burger a try, to compare to FO’s.
GS exterior 500x335 The Golden State   5/8/10

The Burger – Harris Ranch beef, Fiscalini Farms cheddar, glazed applewood smoked bacon, arugula, housemade aioli and ketchup
GS burger 500x335 The Golden State   5/8/10

GS burger2 500x335 The Golden State   5/8/10

The burger was not as pink as FO’s, but it was medium rare. The meat also wasn’t quite as beefy, and not as moist. However, make no mistake – this was a good burger. The patty was nicely thick, and the bacon was fantastic. I love arugula on a burger, and this was not an exception. The cheese was fairly mild and somewhat hidden. The bun also was rather un-extraordinary, being a fairly standard burger bun. This was a lighter burger – not as much as FO’s. Depending on what you want, this could be a good thing. We got sweet potato fries along with the burger, which I thought were way too charred…burnt..on the outside.

jubel 500x335 The Golden State   5/8/10

To drink with the burger, we got a Deschutes Jubel 2010. The deep, malty flavor was mildly sweet, and was actually relatively light. I tend not to prefer dark beers, but this wasn’t a bad one.

stone cali belgique 500x335 The Golden State   5/8/10

Also, we had a Stone Cali-Belgique. This Stone IPA, made with Belgian yeast, was pretty good. However, I think I like Stone’s Ruination better.

I’d come back to Golden State. The burger was good, not exceptional, but the beer list is quite good. I still need to come back to try one of their beer floats.

Chicken Curry – 5/1/10

I’m not sure what inspired me to make this dish. I enjoy curries, and I’ve been braising a lot, so I suppose this was a logical dish. I found one of Ming Tsai’s recipes (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ming-tsai/braised-chicken-curry-with-yams-recipe/index.html), and it was quite simple. I figured I’d give it a try. I didn’t want to make one of those packaged sauce curries that you add as a sauce to your meat – you miss out on a lot of the flavor. Here, where the chicken meat and bones cook for a while in the curry, makes a much more flavorful dish.

Ingredients

* Canola oil
* 2 pounds chicken legs and thighs
* 2 large white onions, chopped
* 1 tablespoons minced garlic
* 1 tablespoons minced ginger
* 1/3 cup madras curry powder
* 2 bay leaves
* 4 cups chicken stock
* 3 large yams, peeled and chopped
* Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

In a hot stock pot coated with oil, season the chicken and brown all sides. Put chicken aside. In the same stock pot, remove chicken fat, leaving only a coating of oil and saute onions, garlic and ginger. Caramelize well, then add the curry powder. Mix quickly for 2 minutes making sure not to burn the curry powder. Add back the chicken, banana bay leaves and chicken stock. Check for seasoning. Bring to a boil and simmer slowly for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, add the yams. Serve on white rice or with toasted pita bread.

I used this recipe as a base, and modified it according to my personal preferences. I was able to find Madras curry at Whole Foods, and used a combination of that and ‘regular’ curry powder, as Madras can be fairly spicy. Instead of yams, I used a combination of carrots and potatoes – the carrots would add sweetness, and I just love potatoes in my curries.

I started by browning my chicken thighs.browning 500x335 Chicken Curry   5/1/10

I caramelized the onions, added ginger, garlic, and the curry powder and added them to my dutch oven. Then, I added the chicken stock, chicken, and carrots to start the braise.

braising 500x335 Chicken Curry   5/1/10

With about 40 minutes to go in cooking time, I added the potatoes.potatoes 500x335 Chicken Curry   5/1/10

In almost 2 full hours of cooking time, the chicken meat was just falling off the bone, and the potatoes were ready.finished 500x335 Chicken Curry   5/1/10
Finally, I plated my curry over brown rice, with a sprig of fresh parsley from my garden.plating 500x335 Chicken Curry   5/1/10

I was quite pleased with my first attempt at a curry. The curry wasn’t too spicy, but was a nice flavor. The chicken was tender, and cooked pretty well, I thought. Maybe a little overcooked, but that’s hard to judge in a braise. Close enough. I would make this again, and I wouldn’t change too much.

The Dining Room at the Langham – 4/30/10

The Dining Room at the Langham
1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106

I had been to the Langham a little over a year ago, when Craig Strong was the chef. I had a good meal at the time, but I’ve been really looking forward to going back to try Michael Voltaggio’s cuisine. Voltaggio, as you might know, won last season’s Top Chef, beating out his brother. Voltaggio helped open the Bazaar, Jose Andres’ highly-acclaimed eatery in LA.  Blending modern, molecular gastronomy with classic French technique, Voltaggio creates some really creative, beautiful dishes – thus, why I’ve been wanting to go for so long.

entrance 500x335 The Dining Room at the Langham   4/30/10

The restaurant is located in a very, very large hotel in Pasadena – formerly a Ritz Carlton. The menu offers two options – a 4 course a la carte menu, or a 7 course tasting menu. Naturally, we went with the tasting menu. Click for a larger version.

menu 224x335 The Dining Room at the Langham   4/30/10
First up was an amuse bouche of a gougere and a tomato jelly.

amuse 500x335 The Dining Room at the Langham   4/30/10
The gougere was good, however very similar to the others I’ve had at Cut or French Laundry.

First course:
Langoustine
White asparagus, tiny eggs, fried calamari

langoustine 500x335 The Dining Room at the Langham   4/30/10

Perfectly cooked langoustine. Mmm…that’s all that was really necessary, but the poached eggs and yolk added a very nice richness to the dish.

Foie Gras Terrine
Strawberry-yuzu, arugula cake, Minus 8 vinegar

foie 500x335 The Dining Room at the Langham   4/30/10

This was a very interesting dish. A foie gras terrine, mousse-like in texture, was covered by a layer of strawberry, served with fresh strawberries, arugula, and arugula cake. The interplay of the sweetness with the rich liver was very nice. The arugula cake was somewhat sweet as well, but rather mild in flavor.

Halibut Cheeks
Red curry, coconut rice, baby leeks

halibut 500x335 The Dining Room at the Langham   4/30/10

This dish was really delicious. The fish was very moist, tender and flavorful. It wasn’t quite as dense as the typical halibut filet, which I enjoyed. The puffed rice added some crunchiness.

Veal Sweetbreads Tempura
Kale, buttermilk, mustard, potato puree

sweetbreads 500x335 The Dining Room at the Langham   4/30/10

Sweetbreads fried tempura style – not something I’ve had before. I enjoyed this dish as well, with the tender sweetbreads lightly fried. It was almost scallop-like in texture.

Four Story Hills Farm Suckling Pig
Banana polenta, morels, ramps, red onion

pork 500x335 The Dining Room at the Langham   4/30/10

The polenta here was way too sweet. The pork belly was cooked quite well though, and nicely fatty. The skin was crispy – just the way it should be.

Japanese Kuroge Beef
Fried bearnaise, young turnips, bordelaise

beef 500x335 The Dining Room at the Langham   4/30/10

The beef here was clearly a high-quality wagyu, with lots of melt-in-your-mouth fat marbling. I really enjoyed this piece of meat, but the accompanying red wine gelee did not do much for me.

Chocolate Caramel Ganache
Chocolate sorbet, salty hazelnut praline, cocoa tuille

chocolate 500x335 The Dining Room at the Langham   4/30/10

This dish was a bit of a disappointment. First, the sorbet was kind of melted (see in picture) when it came out. I figure it might have been waiting just a little while for the other dessert. The caramel was rather jelly-like – this dish was not memorable.

Baba Au Rhum
Textures of coconut and pineapple, compressed papaya

baba au rhum 500x335 The Dining Room at the Langham   4/30/10

This dish was a little bit better. The cake was dipped in liquor, topped with sorbet, and served with papaya and pineapple jelly.

Finally, the mignardises. Dark chocolate lollipops with pop rocks, mini macarons, and a passion fruit jellies. These were all pretty good.

mignardises 500x335 The Dining Room at the Langham   4/30/10

In all, the meal at the Langham was good, but disappointing. Admittedly, I had very high expectations coming into this meal, and thus why the meal fell a little flat. I was optimistic that this would be one of the top 5 restaurant meals in LA – but I can’t say that it was. I really enjoyed the halibut cheek, but outside of that, none of the dishes were outstanding. However, none of the dishes were terrible either.