Ben’s Kitchen in LA.

Where do you live?
I live in Los Angeles, California — specifically Studio City.

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How often do you cook or bake?
Since I was laid off a month ago, I’ve been trying my hardest to conserve money and not go out for meals. So as of late: nearly every meal is a home-cooked one. (And when they’re not, I opt for the semi-cheap, entirely-delicious Hugo’s Tacos — Chicken or Al Pastor Bowl with Honey Chipotle.) As for baking? Uh, haven’t crossed that bridge yet.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
I’m a gadget nerd. (Latest love: the Kuhn Rikon Lid Lifter.)  But in terms of sheer practicality and overall use, I’ma go with the Pure Komachi stainless steel knife my mom gave me a couple years ago. She was at some cooking expo of some sort and I think it was given to her…  Anyway, it’s a ridiculous shade of purple but it’s incredibly sharp and lightweight. I tend to use chopped peppers and/or onions and/or garlic in about everything I make, so it’s in almost constant use.

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Which part of your kitchen do you like best and why?
My favorite part of my kitchen? I guess the piece of real estate to the right of my sink. There’s plenty of space to spread out supplies and room to chop & concoct and the window’s right there, so when the weather’s just right you can catch a nice cool breeze.

What was your biggest kitchen accomplishment?
This is a two part answer.

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A. When it comes to cooking regular meals, I’m not super adventurous. I go for maximum flavor from as few pots/dishes as humanly possible. For example, a few weeks ago  I made a really tasty soba dish from — cough — Martha Stewart. I highly recommend it.

Sautéed Chicken with Herbed Soba, from Martha Stewart

4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
1 cup fresh parsley
1 garlic clove, chopped (But as far as I’m concerned, one clove is never enough. I used two.)
1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger (Again, I think I erred on the side of a wee bit more ginger.)
¼ cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 ounces chicken cutlets
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (Oh and I didn’t have pure cayenne in the cupboard, so I used a cayenne-based spice rub that gave the chicken a really nice kick that was counterbalanced by the cool cilantro.)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 package (8.8 ounces) soba

  1. In a food processor, finely chop scallions, cilantro, parsley, garlic, and ginger with vinegar and 1 tablespoon oil. Transfer to a bowl.
  2. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. Season chicken with cayenne, salt, and pepper. Working in batches, cook, turning once, until opaque throughout, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer chicken to a cutting board; let cool 5 minutes, and thinly slice.
  3. Cook soba according to package instructions. Drain; toss with herb mixture. Serve chicken with soba; garnish with cilantro.

B. Here’s the real story about accomplishment that I wanted to tell. Roughly once a month, I have a bunch of friends come over for a ragtag, bourgie afternoon-into-evening of cooking, drinking, and eating. December’s dinner was based around the holidays (obvs) and nothing says the holidays like, uh, Moroccan Lamb Stew.  (To be fair we did have about 15 other courses that included more traditionally seasonal items like latkes and  Pimm’s Cup.)

Anyway, the purpose of this story: it wasn’t that the lamb stew was some impossibly difficult recipe — although none of us had ever made lamb stew — because it wasn’t. Instead, over the course of a couple of hours (and way too much alcohol) various factions and pairings would hover over the pot and finesse it, nudging it into the best stew I’ve ever had. That whole “too many cooks” maxim…? Yeah, that wasn’t in effect on that December night. So that’s our (Jill, Tim, Devereaux, and Tyler) accomplishment.

Moroccan Lamb Stew, from Bon Appétit
Makes four portions

¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
3 ½ pounds o-bone (round-bone) lamb shoulder chops, well trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces, or 2 pounds lamb stew meat
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 1/3 cups water
2 large blood oranges
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon honey

Mix salt, pepper, cinnamon and allspice in medium bowl. Add lamb and toss to coat with spice mixture. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add lamb to pot and sauté until brown on all sides, about 4 minutes per batch. Return all lamb to pot. Add onion, garlic and ginger to pot and sauté 5 minutes. Add 1 1/3 cups water and bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until lamb is almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Exactly how we veered away from this recipe is, alas, a little hazy. I do know that we chopped two big handfuls of really fresh mint and added it kind of late in the game. I also know that we amped the amount of blood orange used (plus zest) and added vegetable stock to the mix… But honestly, that’s all I remember at this late date.

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Breakfast at the North End Café.

I was so excited that my friend Ben was free to meet up for an impromptu breakfast this past Saturday. The only thing hampering our plans was the fact that none of us were remotely familiar with Manhattan Beach. Keith and I hadn’t the time to explore; all we had seen was a very unscenic stretch of Sepulveda dotted with P.F. Chang’s, California Pizza Kitchen, IHOP and Jack in the Box. Determined not to end up at Starbucks, we settled on North End Café on Highland, which we discovered simply by Googling.

The café is quite easy to find; there’s not way anyone could possibly miss its chartreuse-colored building, let alone the line wrapped around the front. The key is most certainly in arriving early, something Ben, Keith and I lucked upon.

Aesthetically, North End Café leans toward industrial chic, with concrete slab floors, stainless counters on casters and fans from the Modern Fan Company. The clear showpiece of the space, though, is the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking 35th Street. Not only do they let in massive amounts of light, but they also open up the café, which is actually very small.

The menu is completely egg-centric; I think there are only a few choices that don’t rely on eggs at all, but avoiding North End’s eggs is just plain silly. Even Keith, who’s not a huge egg-eater, cleared his plate.

I chose the Neapolitan Toast — grilled bread filled with fresh aged mozzarella and checca, with a side of Italian eggs ($8.75). As far as coffee went, I had been engaged in my regular hemming and hawing (Did I want a latte? A cappuccino? An Americano?) when Ben pointed at what is destined to become my caffeinated version of a soulmate: the Medici — a mix of espresso, chocolate, orange zest and milk ($4.75 for a generous medium). Trust me when I say it tasted as amazing as it sounds.

You may not be able to tell from the photograph, but it’s not one, but two sandwiches stacked next to the pile of cheesy, herby, tomato-y eggs. While the flavors were all bright and fresh, I had the following three small issues:

  1. the eggs, though delicious, left vaguely unsavory tracings of oil all over my plate;
  2. the sandwiches would have been leagues more enjoyable had they been toasted just a smidge longer, fully melting the cheese within; and
  3. I wish the bread used had been something heartier, something with greater depth, for these slices made me think a little bit of Wonder Bread.

You know what though? None of that matters; I’m being needlessly nit-picky because, truly, I had a really great time at the café. It was a sunny morning, one of the firsts I had been able to appreciate for a while, and I was eating a tasty breakfast with two people whose company I love. What could possibly make a meal better than that?

North End Café
3421 Highland Avenue
Manhattan Beach, California 90266
310.546.4782

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