Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Ingredients

Ready for summer's pies: Woolly pig leaf lard

Yesterday I was browsing through my Twitter feed at warp speed when the words "Mangalitsa" and "lard" brought me to a screeching halt. Evan Kleiman (@evankleiman), host of KCRW's "Good Food," had tweeted or re-tweeted that McCall’s Meat & Fish Co. on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz is now selling Mangalitsa leaf lard.

Fantastic! I’ve been lugging the same leaf lard home from Seattle’s U-District Farmers Market, where Heath Putnam Farms sells bacon and lard from Hungary’s Mangalitsa (MON-go-leet-sa), or woolly pig. The curly-headed beast is closely related to Europe’s wild boars and has a thick layer of particularly tasty fat, which, according to what I’ve read, is less saturated than that from many other breeds.

After rendering the fat, I used some in every pie crust I made all last summer. The snowy-white lard makes an ineffably flaky crust that has to be tasted to be believed. I’m just about out, so the fact that McCall’s is now selling the stuff is a wonderful thing.

Since the butcher shop is owned by a couple who are both chefs, I asked Nathan McCall and Karen Yoo how they would use the lard.  Nathan said Karen made a batch of biscuits to test the lard.  “They were excellent, easily the most moist and flaky biscuit I’ve eaten," he said. "I've also heard it makes an exceptional pie crust.”

On the savory side, he plans to try duck and pork confit, carnitas, even a quick-cured halibut confit. “I will definitely try utilizing it anywhere I would use duck fat, like beans, potatoes, braised cippolini, fries. The possibilities seem to be endless.” 

McCall’s Meat & Fish Co., 2117 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 667-0674; woolly pig leaf lard is $5 for a half-pound.

Heath Putnam Farms, (253) 833-7591; sells bacon and lard on Saturdays at Seattle’s U-District Farmers Market.

— S. Irene Virbila

Photo of woolly pig courtesy of Heath Putnam Farms

Canning It: Working under pressure

Pressure Canner by Rachael Narins
When most people think of canning, they think of boiling water canning; taking food that has been placed in jars and boiling it for a recommended amount of time to make it last.

When you make fruit jam or pickles that way, you have something to eat and perhaps some handsome gifts to give away. But there are limitations to what can be boiling water processed and you can’t really feed your family on jelly and pickles. This is where pressure canning comes in.

Pressure canners (which are different than pressure cookers) are huge industrial-looking pots that have clamps and gauges, weights and valves and 12-page instruction manuals that are downright intimidating.  But don’t let that stop you. It’s simpler thank you think. All you have to do is follow the directions.

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Latini brings back Taganrog selection pasta

Latini After a gap of two years when the wheat didn't grow well, Pasta Latini is once again able to offer its Taganrog selection pasta. More delicate than regular durum wheat pasta, when cooked it smells a little like fresh-baked bread.

Here's a bit of history: The Italians began importing the wheat from Russia in the 19th century, and the variety is named for the port of Taganrog on the Azov Sea in Russia. What's the connection? In the 13th century, Taganrog was a colony of the Maritime Republic of Pisa (who knew?).

Latini, a family-owned pasta company started way back in 1888, reintroduced pasta made from Taganrog wheat in 2000. Like all its pastas, Taganrog pasta is extruded through brass dies -- the better to grab a sauce.

I'm curious and am putting in my order for this heirloom variety pasta as soon as I finish this post. 

Latini pasta Taganrog spaghetti and penne available from Gustiamo.com in 500 gram (1.1 pound) packages, $9.50; www.gustiamo.com; 718-860-2949.


Six days, six Bay Area restaurants 

Top reviewed restaurants of the L.A. Times 

113 wine picks

-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo credit: Gustiamo

Honey bees on restaurant rooftops [Updated]

Miketerry1 Who would imagine? While I was eating at Cotogna in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, bees were making honey on the rooftop. That's the work of Terry Oxford and her partner Brian Linke of UrbanBee SF.

Linke didn't know a thing about bees until he started dating Oxford and helping her with the bees she'd been keeping on top of her San Francisco high-rise for several years. The two have a habit of walking the city at night, and one evening they found themselves staring in the window of Quince's open kitchen. 

At that moment, chef Michael Tusk who owns both Quince and Cotogna next door, came out to say hello. They introduced themselves and mentioned they'd been wanting to put beehives on top of a restaurant for a while, says Linke. Funny thing, Tusk said he'd been thinking about the same thing just that week.

Done. A month and a half later, bees were in residence on the rooftop shared by Quince and Cotogna. The seven hives have been in place for about a year, producing the honey that goes into the roasted carrots with rooftop honey on Cotogna's menu, a dish I wish I'd tried when I was there.

Right now, just one other restaurant in San Francisco has them, Farm:Table on Post Street. UrbanBeeSF will soon be establishing honey programs at Nopa and Mission Beach Cafe, both in San Francisco. And next month, they'll be moving bees onto the roof at Blue Bottle Coffee's roasting facility in Oakland.

Because the bees forage around the city where there's lots of wild fennel growing, Oxford says the honey has an anise note and tends to lean more toward the savory than the sweet.

Later this year, they plan to start selling the honey. Stay tuned for an update. 


[Corrected at 1:30 p.m. April 21: An earlier version of this post referred to the name of the organization as Urban Bees SF.]


Six days, six Bay Area restaurants 

Top reviewed restaurants of the L.A. Times 

113 wine picks

-- S. Irene Virbila

Follow me on twitter.com/sirenevirbila

Photo: Chef Michael Tusk with Terry Oxford. Credit: UrbanBeeSF



Restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila ponders the case of the vexing vinegar spout. Can you help?

VINEGAR (1 of 1) This past weekend, I went to Marconda's Meats, the butcher shop in the Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax. On the way back to the car, I took a spin around World Market (which I still can't help calling Cost Plus) and spotted this 6-quart glass beverage dispenser for $14.95. I'd been looking for something bigger than a French liter canning jar to expand my red wine vinegar production.

When I was up in Berkeley, I'd investigated buying a wood vinegar barrel at Oak Barrel Winecraft but the prices were more than I was willing to spend. A 1-gallon American oak barrel, for example, is $135, the 2-gallon $145, while a 6-liter French oak barrel is $170, a 10-liter one $200. But they certainly have everything you'd need for making vinegar, even a vinegar-making kit.

For a vinegar-making primer, see food editor Russ Parsons' 1999 article "Mother, May I?" 

The beverage dispenser seemed just the right size and price. Plus, because of the spigot, I could easily remove vinegar without disturbing the precious mother. I transferred my red wine vinegar and mother to the new container and cut a square of cheesecloth to put on top. Perfect!

Three days later the jar started leaking around the spigot. I'm returning it Saturday.

Now what. Anybody have any ideas?


-- Six days, six Bay area restaurants

-- Top reviewed restaurants of the L.A. Times

-- 113 wine picks

-- S. Irene Virbila

Follow me on twitter.com/sirenevirbila

Photo by Fred Seidman

Restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila on her favorite 'rip-snorting' Moutarde de Dijon

IMG_1725 We have a conspiracy among the cooks in our neighborhood. Whenever someone goes to France, he or she loads up on mustard. You can't carry the jars on the plane, but rolled up in sweaters or shirts or jammed into socks tucked in luggage, they arrive safe and unsmashed. At least, so far.

The brand we all crave? Amora Moutarde de Dijon. It's not at all fancy. No green peppercorns. Just mustard as the French have been making it for centuries -- rip-snorting and potent. And a basic of every French kitchen.

Actually, in France you can buy it forte (strong), mi-forte (half-strong) or douce (sweet). The best, though, is the forte, the one with the red label.

A spoonful in the bottom of a mortar starts out a classic aioli. A dollop perks up a simple vinaigrette. It gives a kick to chicken in Dijon sauce. Or, if you have it, rabbit wrapped in caul fat and cooked in mustard and cream. 

Last week, I found it for sale at L'Epicerie in Culver City, a nice big jar for -- ta dum -- $8 (a smaller one is $4.50). This is huge: It means I'll no longer have to bring back jars for my neighbors. We can each buy our own, leaving room in the suitcases for other things, like Armagnac or perfume or a Laguiole cheese knife.

L'Epicerie Cafè and Market, 9900 Culver Boulevard, Culver City; (310) 815-1600; www.lepiceriemarket.com.

-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo credit: S. Irene Virbila

Meet the Infinity chile: the hottest chile in the world?

Chili pepper 2
It seemed like only yesterday that the Bhut Jolokia (pictured above), also known as the ghost chile, stood out as the commonly acknowledged hottest chile in the world, clocking in at about a million Scoville units. Life at the No. 1 spot can be short-lived in a nuclear arms race for developing the hottest chile around. The emerging champion is known as the Infinity chile, according to BBC News. It weighs in at 1,176,182 Scoville units. Engineered accidentally in a greenhouse by Nick Woods in England, the chile comes with a health warning, outdoing the heat level of chile grenades manufactured by the Indian military. It eclipses the featherweight jalapeno's heat level of about 5,000 Scoville units. Chile eaters may have met their match in the ring. 

-- Max Diamond

Photo credit: David Karp

Chips and salsa that taste good, do good

Here's a sneak peek at what's coming in this week's Food section:

The hottest-selling snack item at 256 Ralphs deli sections across Southern California in the first weeks of February wasn't pretzels or cheese puffs, or pita or bagel crisps. According to the Compton-based supermarket chain, the No. 1 seller was Homeboy Industries' tortilla chips and salsa.

Homeboy Industries, the Los Angeles nonprofit founded by Father Gregory Boyle to help former gang members and convicts turn their lives around, launched its line of chips and salsa at Ralphs last month as part of an effort to revive its hard-hit finances. The high hope is that they might be the start of Homeboy's version of Newman's Own — the company created by the late Paul Newman that transformed salad dressing into social enterprise.

Read more: "Homeboy Industries pins hopes on chips and salsa."

Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times


Chat with L.A. Times Test Kitchen Manager Noelle Carter at 2 p.m. Wednesday

Join us here at 2 p.m. Wednesday to chat online with L.A. Times Test Kitchen Manager Noelle Carter. She'll be answering all your Thanksgiving food-preparation questions and more. (Bonus points if you manage to stump her.)

Never done the online chat thing? It's so easy. You just type in a question. Just return here to the Daily Dish at 2 p.m. and you can see how it all plays out. If, for some reason, you can't make the chat, type a question in the comments section below and we'll try to answer it as well.


-- This holiday, take it outside: Food editor Russ Parsons on grilling the Thanksgiving turkey

-- More holiday recipes from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen at LATimes.com/Thanksgiving

-- Skip the kitchen: Here's your guide to eating out and taking out this holiday

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch


Online chat: Thanksgiving prep with the L.A. Times Test Kitchen

Grilled_turkey You have questions, we have answers.

And L.A. Times Food editor Russ Parsons will be at the keyboard at 1 p.m. Monday to chat with you and answer your questions about Thanksgiving prep (and, if time allows, any other burning food questions you might have). We anticipate that one talking point will be the "Judy Bird": It's Russ' favorite way to cook the Thanksgiving turkey because it leads to a crispy exterior and a juicy interior. Click here for the recipe.

Later in the week, L.A. Times Test Kitchen Manager Noelle Carter will be available at 2 p.m. Wednesday to answer any last-minute questions.

As always, we offer bonus points for anyone who manages to stump these two. Believe me, we've tried, and it hasn't happened yet. But that doesn't mean we've given up hope....

Chat details: Come back here to the Daily Dish blog on 1 p.m. Monday and 2 p.m. on Wednesday, ready to chat. If you'd like to sign up for e-mail reminders for either chat, click below and follow the instructions that follow.

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch


This holiday, take it outside: Food editor Russ Parsons on grilling the Thanksgiving turkey

More holiday recipes from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen at LATimes.com/Thanksgiving

Skip the kitchen: Here's your guide to eating out and taking out this holiday

Photo: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times 

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