Matzah Brei: It’s All It’s Cracked Up To Be

In the last post, Josie mentioned disappointing brunch food. Normally, brunch food comes in two categories: 1. Average and diner-esque 2. Delicious, but ridiculously overpriced. Breakfast food is so easy and simple to make so where is this nonsense added price coming from? Do restaurants think they can capitalize on serving a meal that mixes together 2 other meals? Who knows. What I do know is that when you look back on your childhood one of the first dishes you probably made was scrambled eggs. Cracking an egg for a child, and even for me now, is monumentally fun. It’s cracking the shell into the world of cooking and the world of all life forms.

I don’t know if it is because of my new idol, Ruth Reichl, or the reemergence of my Jewishness that seems to come back every few months but yesterday for dinner I wanted Matzah Brei. It is a simple dish that is basically the ingredients of plain scrambled eggs or an omelet with the addition of matzah crackers. This dish is most commonly a brunch food that makes a large showing during passover when leavened bread is not allowed. The truly interesting part of this dish is that it is a blank canvas and depending on what area your Jewish ancestors were from affects whether the dish is sweet or savory. You can either put salsa on it or applesauce and jam. It can either be scrambled or more like an omelet. Since becoming a devout Ruth Reichl convert, I used her simple recipe religiously and broke it into pieces like scrambled eggs. She may have been the LA and NY Times food critic and the editor of Gourmet magazine but this dish could not be any simpler. 2 eggs, 2 matzah crackers, salt, and butter. You break the matzah, you get it damp with water, you crack eggs, stir, and fry. When it came time to dress it up, I chose applesauce. It seemed the most fitting. I don’t really remember this dish as a kid but I always saw my grandma putting orange marmalade on matzah for breakfast.

Later, the night of my BFD (brunch for dinner), I talked to my mom and told her about my dinner. She claimed that she  and my grandma used to always make this dish for me as a kid. I might not remember this, but as soon as I took my first bite it felt just like home. When I asked my mom how it was served for me as a kid, she replied, “With jam.” Not a surprise, I know that my family is Ashkenazi with more of a sweet rather than savory palate. By sweet, I mean fruity. My grandma introduced me to the joys, from an early age, of raisins in everything. From carrot salad to stuffed hen and bran muffins, nothing was without raisins. In fact, I am looking for a stuffed cabbage recipe with meat and raisins similar to the one she used to make. If you have such a delicious recipe pass it on and if you are looking for a cheap and delicious comfort brunch food add this to your repertoire. From the breaking of crackers to the cracking of eggs, this is a perfect no fail UG dish! Crack on, this dish is all it is cracked up to be!

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Get Thee to a Winery…and Get There Fast!

Last Saturday I saw a brilliant movie called “An Education” with my friend Zena. When we were walking back from the film we began talking about the plot of the movie and if we have ever felt like we have been detoured from our wants by a man. I never have but I started talking about The Baron, a guy that I spent some time with a few months ago, and how whenever I’d see him I’d forget all that I had to do. One hour would turn into a weekend and he would make his own parking spots for me all over the city. Zena and I had earlier polished off a bottle of wine together and she recommend that I call him since we hadn’t talked in a while. He lives in a hotel close to my house but is always out of town. I called him at 12:01A and he returned my call in a few minutes and invited us to the hotel bar for a drink. His foot was on ice when we arrived, apparently he twisted his ankle earlier that day. We drank, chatted, ordered sushi, and then out of the blue I asked the Baron when his birthday was. He smiled and said February 7th. It was a few hours into that date. He said he was shocked when I called him exactly on his birthday and had it not been for his ankle injury he would have been in a Hollywood club. It was one of those mystical nights. He then was in Vegas and I was on Jury Duty, so we decided to have lunch on Wednesday to catch up. He called me around 11AM to confirm and then asked if I wanted to go the winery. Of course, I said yes. Let me back up for a second, I call him The Baron because he comes from 8 generations of wine makers and one of his relatives had baron status from the emperor of Slovakia. The family history is a rich one that involves hiding from the Nazis, immigrating to the United States with nothing, and then completely rebuilding the family wine business. We drove one hour to the Herzog Wine Cellar in Oxnard for lunch, wine, and a tour. As soon as you walk in the wine store and bar are on the left and just past that is the restaurant Tierra Sur Restaurant. It is a kosher restaurant that serves all the finest local produce from a few miles away and great quality meat…even, get ready….LAMB BACON!

We were starving so as soon as we sat down we ordered platillos from the lunch menu. It was a great deal you get a trio of 3 for only $8. The restaurant has strong Mediterranean and Mexican influences. We got chili rellenos, Mediterranean eggplant caponata, and tabbouleh. I am neither a fan of eggplant nor chilis but I devoured both; they were absolutely excellent.

For the main course I ordered the special handmade pasta with porcini mushrooms and pesto The Baron had the steak. He was hungry but a rabbi came in looking for him to be the 10th in the minyan, so he had to step outside for prayer. I made a big faux pas by asking if I could have a side of parmesan when my pasta arrived. I stupidly grasped my mouth afterward, of course I couldn’t, it is a kosher restaurant and there is no dairy if meat is served. While I sat alone with the food the restaurant and events manager, Hugo Ham, came up and spoke with me. I imagine you can guess by his name that he is not Kosher and yet we had a great talk about how flavorful all of the food is still and how I really didn’t feel at all that my meal was lacking. Later the Chef, Todd Aaron, came out and I said that all the produce was great and he explained that everything is grown only 3 miles away. He said all of this stuff makes it down to the Santa Monica Farmer Market but he gets first pick. Chef Todd came from New York and used to work at one of my favorite SF restaurants, Zuni Cafe.

The Baron went on and on about their homemade churros and he was right they were fabulous. Dairy actually kills my stomach so I appreciated the dairy free meal. The chef was even kind enough to send out strawberry sorbet.

How can I be at a winery and forget to mention the wine? I got Sauvingnon Blanc and he had the Cabernet. One thing I loved about the wines is that they come in a large variety of prices but they are all premium wines and reasonably priced. After lunch, we walked upstairs and I got a tour of the factory. The vats, the barrels, and then the pouring, labeling and boxing. It was so cool. I have been to a ton of breweries and vineyards but I have never seen wine being produced.

The whole process was so cool. The staff was great, I especially liked Debbie at the front desk who the Baron referred to as his non-Jewish Jewish mother. I loved that her name was Debbie and thought of that old joke: Have you seen the new Jewish-American Princess Horror movie? It’s called “Debbie Does Dishes.” There is also a joke that says that Jews don’t drink because it gets in the way of their suffering. Trust me, anyone (Jewish or gentile) will love Herzog wine. They dominate 80% of the kosher wine market and the winery visitors are only maybe 20% Jewish. It is good food and wine for all and it is fascinating to learn what constitutes a kosher wine. I have already written about my very personal relationship with this area and I truly believe that the area between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara is one of the most beautiful places in California.

I jokingly tweeted that I now have a new standard that I will only go out with people with wineries. I kid, sort of. Let me just say that holding up a water glass to 8 generations of wine makers and a beautiful winery kind of makes me want to roll my eyes.

SPECIAL PROMOTION: If you are going to be one of the thousands at LA Street Food Fest tomorrow, Josie and I will be working the cash box from 2-5 and I have 25 chips that will get you a wine flight at Herzog Wine Cellars for, get this…one quarter…25 cents. Find me and drink cheaply.

Herzog Wine Cellars
3201 Camino Del Sol
Oxnard, CA 93030
(805) 983-1560

Hanukkah: Festival of Lights, Shots, and Latkes

I, Carina, grew up always celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah. Over the last couple of years I have been less interested in holidays and have only somewhat celebrated Christmas. Well, not really, last Christmas I woke up hungover and nauseous in Vegas…uncouth. If you have been a long time UG reader you know that this year I have been really been trying to reconnect with my Jewish roots. Whether it has been attending Shabbat dinners, going to shul, dating Jdaters , and/or eating the #19 at Langers it has been a fully satisfying discovery. Since my family isn’t in LA, I have been off to a late start. On the 4th night of Hanukkah I went over to a JDaters house that I met months ago and he made me latkes with his mother’s recipe. Love is the secret ingredient, or so he told me. On the 5th night I went to a L’Chaim Downtown LA event at Broadway Bar. I must say having the rabbi hand me vodka shots was my favorite Hanukkah gift. I am sad the holiday is coming to an end just as I am beginning to celebrate it. Oh well, I suppose I have Christmas in a week so shouldn’t get too gloomy. Here was the latke making process, just pretend I made them.

Girls Having a (Matzah) Ball!

I was recently told that I am not disclosing as much about my relationship and dating adventures as my other UG half, Josie, this post is an attempt to correct that. I am going to strive to be as honest as possible. We all know that Josie pines for Mr. Fig aka Mr. Tartless but perhaps my own dating escapades are more unknown. One of my good friends, who just happened to be best friends with my ex, had a show in downtown. His band The Mo Odds are awesome and I was excited to see my friend Tony especially after he asked me on Facebook: “Am I neglecting you?” We have been missing our tennis and wine club for more months than I care to count. Josie and I were going to see him at Casey’s bar but when I arrived there was no one there. Apparently, I had the wrong time and they were really set to go on at 11. It was now 10pm and I had a second party to attend, a Shabbat birthday dinner. My friend Barrett has become both my business and religious mentor. He also has become a yenta and told me that I must stick to kosher meat and pressured me in to dating Jews exclusively. Clearly, he knows what he is talking about because he is following his dream career doing what he believes in, found his perfect shul, and has an amazing Brazilian girlfriend whose birthday we were celebrating.

Lilian is awesome and while not being born Jewish has definitely proved to be the Jewish woman I dream to become. Every week she thinks of fun ways to celebrate the sabbath through interesting culinary choices. Being kosher, does not mean not being creative. On our Shabbat dinners spent with this cool young downtown couple we have had traditional Mediterranean, kosher Chinese, Indian, and Italian food. Her birthday was no exception and this week’s theme was southern with fried fish, barbecue beef ribs and chicken, corn, and mashed potatoes.

It was a fun night with delicious kosher food. I ended up giving a ride home to a guy that was supposed to ask me to dinner a month ago. Apparently, he had my phone number incorrectly in his phone so that never happened. This was not the typical guy. He has drivers, lives in a hotel, and his family’s winery has 80% of the kosher wine market. He was making Josie and I crack up all night and when I took him home I got talked in to going back to the hotel for breakfast the next morning and then going to shul. I have been to the very cool and hip Chabad of Downtown Los Angeles a few times and really like it there. I can’t read/understand Hebrew but I like eating pickles and talking to everyone after services. I don’t like singing but am all about pounding on the table and taking l’chaims. I was planning on a Saturday at home reading and watching movies but this guy is clearly not used to the word “no”. He made up parking spots for me, talked to door men, read through the Torah quickly so I could get out at the time I desired, and after returning convinced me to go to the movies. We were shuttled to the theater down the street and afterward had dinner. I was planning on none of this and one cocktail and half a bottle of champagne later I went home and fell asleep. By the way, the UGs will be taking a tour of the Herzog Winery in Oxnard in the very near future!

Josie called me and woke me up from my nap telling me that the very lovely Lisa from the Party Bus was having her party at the same place I had mine, The Rockwell. I was going to tell her that she was on her own, as I was way out of it, but I read her FB status that read: “My dear Carina will you take me on a date tonight?” I knew I couldn’t leave my other half hanging. As good UGs, we brought pear and gooseberry tarts and madeleines that we made for the birthday girl.

It was great seeing Lisa, Arun, Kane, and the vivacious Veronica who is finally back from Australia. I was busy talking to someone all night that went from Harvard to Burning Man and had an ancestor that was responsible for telegraphing the Emancipation Proclamation to all the armed forces. It is times like these, meeting all of these fascinating people, that make me so thrilled to be single in LA. I have been slightly down lately because the guy that I have a crush on told me he loved me twice but he was sleeping and had no recollection of it in the morning. I love declarations of love and have an affinity for crazy men that tell me that they love in the first week. It was far too early to hear such terms but I got excited and then disappointed. Oh well, it is good to have less pressure on that particular gentleman and just have fun. I went home on Saturday night with my favorite date, Josie. We woke up and got breakfast at Twohey’s in Alhambra. Josie is a champ and got the lumberjack breakfast and I had the tuna melt with the famous onion rings.

The food was classic diner and very filling. The story behind Twohey’s and their famous logo of the man with his nose plugged is that a woman was seated by a man who got his burger with pickles and onions and uttered “Oh Stink-o”. It was so good it stuck and is perfectly uncouth! The best part about this place is the people watching and the excellent management. The sweet manager, who is a member of the family business, came up and made sure we were enjoying our meal. I commented to Josie about what a nice Jewish man he was. When he returned Josie asked if he was Jewish. He responded, “Look at me, I am Greek…we are all cousins”. We gave him our card and he came back a few minutes later and said,  “Ladies, I looked at your blog and you two are having too much fun!” Truer words have never been spoken! We are having a ball or at the very least a matzah ball!