Chat with California Cook columnist Russ Parsons

Times Staff Writer

2007-07-12 13:00:47.0 Administrator2: Hello! Welcome to the chat with our Food writer Russ Parsons. Russ is here to answer your questions about cooking so dish 'em up!

2007-07-12 13:00:51.0 Rinchen: What are the most under appreciated fruits and veggies?

2007-07-12 13:01:56.0 Administrator2: We received a few questions from readers by email and we'll be throwing those into the mix as well.

2007-07-12 13:02:57.0 Russ Parsons: Hiya Rinchen, that's a tough question to start with! There are so many fruits and vegetables that wedon't pay enough attention to, once you get past the obvious favorites like tomatoes and corn and strawberries. At this timeof year, I might suggest cucumbers, summer squash and eggplants for vegetables (i know, they're all technically fruits), and probably plums for fruit. There are so great old varieties out there.

2007-07-12 13:03:32.0 Russ Parsons: What are the ones you think are under appreciated?

2007-07-12 13:04:16.0 Administrator2: What are your favorite recipes (simple!) for zucchinis? My vegetable garden is starting to go and I'm drowning in them. no zuke bread please...

2007-07-12 13:04:39.0 Rinchen: Definitely eggplant and probably okra. It gets a bad rap. For fruits, I would say pummelos. It needs a great publicist.

2007-07-12 13:05:50.0 Russ Parsons: My favorite way to cook zucchini--and i do this all the time at home--is braising it: put the zucchini in a skillet with a little bit of olive oil and about 1/4 cup of water. Season with salt and minced garlic, cover and cook over moderate heat until the zucchini just begins to become tender. Then remove the lid and increase the heat to high. The zucchini juices and olive oil will make a great sauce once the water evaporates. Couldn't be simpler or more delicious.

2007-07-12 13:06:42.0 Russ Parsons: I love okra, too. i'm from the south. My wife isn't and won't let me cook it unless i fry it. Pummelos are terrific in the winter and we're getting so many great varieties now. i really love oroblancos.

2007-07-12 13:06:46.0 Administrator2: Russ, what is your favorite go-to cookbook at the moment?

2007-07-12 13:08:14.0 Russ Parsons: Heh-heh, probably "How to Eat a Peach" by, uhm, me. Seriously, I always find good things to cook by going back to the classics, like Richard Olney. I tend to follow certain authors as well. Faith Willinger has a new book out and she's really good. Paul Johnson from Monterey Seafood in the Bay Area has a terrific fish book that just came out.

2007-07-12 13:08:50.0 Administrator2: What should I be looking for in terms of fish in the market right now?

2007-07-12 13:10:35.0 Russ Parsons: I like to go to Japanese markets for my fish because there's such a greater variety. I really love sardines, mackerel, squid ... those oily little fish are always great on the grill. Of course, we're right in the middle of salmon season and this year there should be more wild California salmon thanbefore. Also, halibut is great. And one of my all-time favorite West Coast fish: rex sole or sanddabs.

2007-07-12 13:10:40.0 karma: What are the three most outstanding restaurants in LA?

2007-07-12 13:14:06.0 Russ Parsons: That's probably a question more for our restaurant critic, S. Irene Virbila. I don't eat out that often and I tend to go to places like Shin-Sen-Gumi, my favorite yakitori place in Gardena, or Jongewaard's Bake 'n' Broil, my coffee shop in Long Beach. For abig deal meal? I don't think anybody's doing better food right now than Michael Cimarusti at Providence. And of course, there's Gino Angelini at La Terza. I always like what Nancy Silverton cooks, and Evan Kleiman. And I'd never pass up a meal at Valentino, especially now that Angelo is back.

2007-07-12 13:14:15.0 Administrator: Sorry, I got booted there!

2007-07-12 13:14:35.0 Paul: Regarding fish, what are some of the better places to buy fresh fish in L.A. for grilling. I live in Los Feliz, so any good fresh seafood stores near that area that you are aware of?

2007-07-12 13:14:39.0 Russ Parsons: And I just thought of another great fish for summer, one that's terribly underappreciated--white sea bass. That's an amazing fish, very moist with anice almost herbal flavor.

2007-07-12 13:15:22.0 Rinchen: What is your muse? Do you read any food blogs?

2007-07-12 13:15:35.0 Russ Parsons: In the Los Feliz area the classic is Fish King. They do a really good job. I also went to a place called something like Seafood World in a big mall up there (sorry I can't be more specific).

2007-07-12 13:17:07.0 Russ Parsons: I read as much as I can. I tend to favor blogs where I think the writer is actually cooking and reporting before they write. I'm not that interested in people's opinions about things. I guess that's because I have so many of my own! I do like Michael Ruhlman's blog and I like Wednesday chef. There's a very occasional blog called "Bad Things" that I always find something to think about ... when he posts.

2007-07-12 13:17:12.0 EdSails: I'm in Long Beach. Can you tell me about Jongewaard's Bake 'n' Broil?

2007-07-12 13:18:24.0 Russ Parsons: oh baby, can i tell you about b'n'b. I probably eat there 3 times a week at least. It's on Atlantic and 37th. Classic coffee shop fare: pot pies, hamburgers, soups and salads and the most amazing homemade cakes and pies. Also really good breakfasts. They make a red velvet cake that is out of this world. And fresh peach shortcake made with real biscuits.

2007-07-12 13:19:00.0 Administrator: Russ, what are your favorite types of melon? Is there a difference between crenshaw and canteloupe? Are they interchangeable in recipes?

2007-07-12 13:21:01.0 Russ Parsons: the two main types of melons are those with netted skins and those with smooth skins (think cantaloupe v. honeydew). They can all be used interchangeably in recipes, though the flavors will be slightly different. The main difference is in how you choose them--netted melons, make sure the net is raised above the surface, the background color is golden, the "bellybutton" is clean and there is a good perfume. Smooth melons are tougher: the color should be rich and creamy, the texture should be slightly rough. If it's sticky or you seen brown spots, that's a good sign--those melons leak sugar through the shell when they're really ripe.

2007-07-12 13:21:42.0 Administrator: Do you have a favorite sandwich recipe?

2007-07-12 13:23:16.0 Russ Parsons: Hmm, sandwiches? boy, that's a tough one. The one i made yesterday at home: leftover smoked tri-tip sliced really thin with some hot mustard on good bread. i'm also a fool for a goodgrilled cheese. honestly, is there anything better?

2007-07-12 13:23:24.0 Carola Bundy: Hi, Russ. I live in Gardena (work in Long Beach).... LOVE Shin Sen Gumi and Azuma. Thank you for bringing them to our attention! Any more good/interesting places in Gardena? Thanks.

2007-07-12 13:24:10.0 Rinchen: My favorite sandwich is peanut butter, cucumber, sambal ooleek on a grainy brown bread.

2007-07-12 13:25:03.0 Russ Parsons: Oh Gardena is a wonderland. there are all of those great Japanese restaurants and markets. I practically live at Marukai, it seems. And what's the name of the great soba place? It's just on the tip of my tongue ... otafuku. Terrific place. What are your favorites?

2007-07-12 13:25:28.0 Russ Parsons: That's a very specific sandwich Rinchen! I'll have togive it a try.

2007-07-12 13:26:11.0 Administrator: What type of cheese do you use for the grilled cheese?

2007-07-12 13:27:51.0 Russ Parsons: What kind do I have in the fridge? It's kind of embarrassing, but I like fresh goat cheese. I know, I'm a walking cliche. I also like a sandwich made with real jack, the moist kind. i like commercial mozzarella (seems to melt better for sandwiches). But most often at home, I'll just take end cuts of whatever I have on hand and mix them together. The main thing is the bread has to be buttered beforre it's fried.

2007-07-12 13:28:10.0 Carola Bundy: I just returned from Pacific Marukai Market. I walk over there once a week. If I had to live with one market, that would be it. I prefer it to the big Marukai on Artesia... this one's on Redondo Beach Blvd.

2007-07-12 13:28:54.0 Russ Parsons: Yes, that's the one I go to. And across the street there are some good restaurants, too. There's a Shin-Sen-Gumi shabu-shabu place and a good Korean tofu house.

2007-07-12 13:29:16.0 Administrator: Do you ever eat vegan food?

2007-07-12 13:30:03.0 Russ Parsons: Not intentionally. I mean, I eat salads and stuff and I'm sure a lot of the stuff I cook turns out to be vegan, but that's not the goal. I'm pretty much your definitive omnivore.

2007-07-12 13:30:09.0 Administrator: ketchup? for or against?

2007-07-12 13:31:12.0 Russ Parsons: I'm pro-ketchup in principle but in practice i don't use it that much, except on fries. i'm probably more of a mustard guy when it comes to hot dogs and sandwiches.

2007-07-12 13:31:18.0 Carola Bundy: Favorite Shin-Sen-Gumi is the one on Western. Love the food. Love the way they yell at you when you walk in. Thanks to you, tried the pork belly... Now we buy it at Pacific and wrap it around our home-grown Shiso. Yum!

2007-07-12 13:32:08.0 Russ Parsons: That is one of those amazing dishes. Couldn't be easier but it tastes like something Thomas Keller might serve.

2007-07-12 13:32:43.0 Rinchen: We get the feeling that you are eating and cooking all the time. You don't look like you are packing any extra pounds. Do you workout?

2007-07-12 13:33:46.0 Russ Parsons: God bless you Rinchen! it does seem that I'm eating, cooking or writing all the time. That's a pretty great life, but not much exercise. I do take a couple of long walks every day. Fortunately, I live only a couple of blocks from the LA River and have a dog who is always anxious to accompany me.

2007-07-12 13:34:03.0 Administrator: Is there a secret to good Hollandaise sauce?

2007-07-12 13:35:32.0 Russ Parsons: it's like getting to carnegie hall ... practice, practice, practice. Seriously, the real trick is not overcooking it. Whisk the eggs until they swell, then add the butter slowly at first. With all emulsion sauces (mayo, etc), it's that first addition of fat that makes or breaks the sauce (pardon the pun)

2007-07-12 13:36:21.0 Administrator: How do you get a good, smoky flavor in BBQ sauce?

2007-07-12 13:37:45.0 Russ Parsons: i know purists would argue that you should never use liquid smoke, but one of my old friends was one of the great bbq cooks in texas (Stubb's), and he frequently did. There are all different schools of sauce and bbq. i tend to be of the one that let's the meat be smoky and then the sauce is applied afterward and can be a counterpoint.

2007-07-12 13:38:36.0 Carola Bundy: Just bit into a sweet potato pastry from the Vie a Paris bakery (next door to Pacific Marukai)....WOW. Please try it! And, the black sesame cookies! I've decided the food is the best thing about Gardena. Have you been to the original Giuliano's??

2007-07-12 13:38:57.0 Russ Parsons: I have not. what kind of place is it?

2007-07-12 13:39:37.0 Administrator: Do you have any guilty food pleasures? Foods that you probably shouldn't love, given your occupation, but you just can't help it?

2007-07-12 13:41:11.0 Russ Parsons: well, i try not to be a food snob and not being a food snob, i should probably say no. but there probably are things i love tehat might surprise other people: i'm crazy for bacon grease (it's the extra-virgin olive oil of the South). And I love reese's peanut butter cup (a confession--that's an addiction I learned from Thomas Keller). and i'm a fool for a good hot dog, particularly with beer at a baseball game.

2007-07-12 13:41:15.0 Rinchen: Waht is the one thing that you will not eat?

2007-07-12 13:41:59.0 Carola Bundy: lian Deli on Gardena Blvd. Lifts up the whole neighborhood. (I can say that. I grew up here.) Great hot pastrami. Great fresh baked breads (rosemary rolls!). Very crowded at llunch time and after work. Still run by the Giuliano's. Mike G. is a trained wine expert.

2007-07-12 13:42:20.0 Russ Parsons: i'll let you know when i find it. seriously, i try to approach everything with an open mind and i don't think there is any ingredient that i haven't liked when it was prepared well. of course, there are plenty that are usually prepared badly.

2007-07-12 13:42:33.0 Administrator: Any tips for grilling vegetables?

2007-07-12 13:44:01.0 Russ Parsons: Hmmm, a light brushing of oil to start and then be sure to cook it thoroughly. I'm not crazy about crisp grilled vegetables. I like the developed flavor. grilled corn is one of my favorites--soak the cobs in the husk for about 30 minutes, then toss them on the fire. turn them every 5 minutes or so. When you peel the husk, the floss will come with it. great stuff--picks up more corn flavor from the smokiness of the husks.

2007-07-12 13:44:08.0 Administrator: Is there one dessert that stands out to you as the best you've ever had?

2007-07-12 13:45:35.0 Russ Parsons: it depends on the circumstance. probably the best high-end dessert i've ever had is somethign Michel Richard makes--it's like a ball of apple sorbet that's decorated with these glass-like thin sheets of dried apple. it's an amazing presentation. when it comes to desserts, i'm pretty much of a fruit kind of guy. i can appreciate chocolate, but give me a good tart any day.

2007-07-12 13:46:05.0 Rinchen: What's for dinner tonite?

2007-07-12 13:47:18.0 Russ Parsons: i haven't thought about it yet. Last night i made a soupe au pistou--really simple. you cut up vegetables (zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, onion, garlic, etc.) cover with water and bring to a boil. simmer about 15 minutes until tender and add some pasta. When the pasta is tender, serve the soup with a big spoonful of pesto--when the pesto hits the hot soup it's amazing.

2007-07-12 13:50:33.0 Russ Parsons: anything else?

2007-07-12 13:52:12.0 Carola Bundy: If you ever have occasion to go to Eureka, CA, be sure to have dinner at Avalon (3rd and G streets, I think). It's replaced Parkway Grill as my favorite special occasion restaurant. A little harder to get to, unfortunately.

2007-07-12 13:53:19.0 Russ Parsons: that's so funny. my daughter went to school in arcata. there are some really nice restaurants up there. i remember a little one--can't remember the name, unfortunately--that was a diner run by the indian tribe. right on the water and during the summer they served pancakes with wild blackberries they'd just picked!

2007-07-12 13:53:49.0 Carola Bundy: My son starts Humboldt this fall! I want to move there!

2007-07-12 13:54:23.0 Russ Parsons: just wait untilwinter. it's really beautiful when the sun shines, but boy, all that greenery comes at a heavy price.

2007-07-12 13:54:50.0 Carola Bundy: Remember the Seascape in Trinidad? Or the Somoa Cookhouse?

2007-07-12 13:55:33.0 Russ Parsons: Never did eat at the Samoa Cookhouse, but I think the Seascape is the diner i was talking about. There's also a nice little breakfast place on the square in Arcata. And I really like the co-op and the natural foods store next door for groceries.

2007-07-12 13:55:34.0 Rinchen: How to Pick a Peach is a great book. I am surprised that the LATimes has promoted Amelia Saltzman's book to be released in August more than yours.

2007-07-12 13:57:15.0 Russ Parsons: Thanks! But in the newspaper business, we bend over backward not to promote ourselves at the expense of others. I've gotten plenty of good notice with "Peach" and I've been very lucky. I certainly don't resent Millie any of the attention we've shown her.

2007-07-12 13:57:18.0 Carola Bundy: Re: Arcata (and then I'll quit. Promise.) Los Bagels.... The best coffee I've ever had! (Dark roast)

2007-07-12 13:58:43.0 Rinchen: One last thing..ever made zucchini pancakes?

2007-07-12 13:59:17.0 Russ Parsons: Yes! they're great. And to answer the question about dinner tonight: probably a zucchini frittata. I love those.

2007-07-12 14:00:45.0 Russ Parsons: Hey thanks for coming by y'all. I'll be here next week, same bat-time, same bat-station. Cook well!

2007-07-12 14:00:52.0 Administrator: Thanks, Russ!

2007-07-12 14:02:07.0 Administrator: The transcript from this chat will be available at later today. Thanks for coming!

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