Chat with California Cook columnist Russ Parsons

Times Staff Writer

2007-08-09 13:02:22.0 Russ Parsons: Hi everybody! What's new? What are you seeing at Farmers Markets? Cooked anything good lately?

2007-08-09 13:02:37.0 william kraal: do you have a easy recipe for leek soup please??

2007-08-09 13:04:09.0 Russ Parsons: Sure, well, pretty easy. Cold leek and potato soup, vichysoisse, is a great summer dish. Essentially, you stew the leeks in butter, add sliced potatoes (I like to use russetts for this), poach them in milk, then puree them. Chill and then add a little heavy cream just before serving.

2007-08-09 13:04:53.0 Administrator2: What are some other good, easy-ish summer soups? Be nice, I'm a beginner!

2007-08-09 13:06:32.0 Russ Parsons: There's nothing easier (and nothing better) than gazpacho. I like to make it the Spanish way, where it comes out lightly creamy rather than as a bunch of chopped ingredients. Soak a slice of sourdough bread in water. Puree peeled, seeded tomatoes, then add the bread and puree that. Add a little vinegar and just enough water to thin it to the texture you want. You can add chopped peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc., as a garnish.

2007-08-09 13:06:56.0 Administrator2: Thanks! I'll try that!

2007-08-09 13:06:58.0 roz collier: What kind of olive oil would you recommend for salads or cooking. Is there a difference? I am having a hard time find the correct product to use especially for salads.

2007-08-09 13:09:00.0 Russ Parsons: Well, the subject of olive oils can get pretty deep. Basically, I have one oil that I use for cooking (usually the Santini from Trader Joe's ... it's a good product at a good price). Then I usually have 3 or 4 other oils that I use for salads/crostini/garnishing dishes,etc. I like to have one that's fairly peppery--Spanish, Greek or Tuscan. I like to have one that's a little sweeter--Ligurian or something like that. And I like to have one French olive oil, they're much flowerier and smoother than the rest.

2007-08-09 13:09:18.0 william kraal: thanks russ im gonna try that leek soup tonite

2007-08-09 13:09:28.0 Administrator2: What have you been cooking this week?

2007-08-09 13:11:18.0 Russ Parsons: I've been working on recipes for next week's story: On long-cooked vegetables. So peppers that have been stewed and then finished with a little good aceto balsamico, roasted tomatoes, zucchini stewed with lemon and mint, stuff like that. These should be cooked to the point that they're almost falling apart, then served cool. They're absolutely terrific with rose.

2007-08-09 13:11:35.0 roz collier: Thanks for the help with the oil. I am just learning to use this chat room. Roz Collier

2007-08-09 13:11:59.0 Russ Parsons: Hey, me too Roz! it's an interesting experiment and a great way to communicate with readers.

2007-08-09 13:12:06.0 yumyum: wow! next week's story sounds great!

2007-08-09 13:12:08.0 yumyum: Hi Russ, do you have any great ideas for tomatillos other than salsa?

2007-08-09 13:12:52.0 Russ Parsons: Well, there's always chile verde. Ruth Reichl used to make a great one--cubed pork, chopped tomatillos and beer all stewed together (there were some other things as well).

2007-08-09 13:13:39.0 yumyum: I have a lot of tomatillos to use- that sounds wonderful - thanks!

2007-08-09 13:14:46.0 Russ Parsons: How do you use them? I took some classes from Rick Bayless and he had really interesting salsa techniques--he scorched the tomatillos, garlic, chiles on a comal, then pureed them, then "fried" the salsa in hot oil. that was really good.

2007-08-09 13:15:57.0 yumyum: I have a very similar salsa recipe that uses 1 tomatillo to each tomato. It is really tasty!

2007-08-09 13:16:19.0 Russ Parsons: That does sound good!

2007-08-09 13:16:22.0 yumyum: I have been seeing apples in the farmer's markets lately. Do you have any favorite varieties that are available now?

2007-08-09 13:17:45.0 Russ Parsons: The apple harvest is just starting. always seems way too early! I think a lot of the new varieties are actually quite good. I like Fujis and Galas, of course, but especially a relatively new variety called Pink Lady. Those will come around in another couple of weeks. If you can find some that have been grown in a cool area, they are absolutely terrific--like crisp Champagne.

2007-08-09 13:18:34.0 Administrator2: What can you do with apples besides eating plain or baking with them?

2007-08-09 13:19:58.0 Russ Parsons: Well, there's apple sauce, of course. And if all you've ever had is commercial, that will be quite a treat. Couldn't be easier: peel apples and cube them, cook them with a little bit of water (like 1tablespoon) and some sugar until they fall apart. You can flavor them a lot ofdifferent ways--i like lemon juice and a little zest, but also try adding a little rosemary.

2007-08-09 13:20:10.0 yumyum: Delicious! I will be on the lookout for the Pink Ladys. I just got some small Gravensteins (I think from Windrose Farm) - they are pretty tasty!

2007-08-09 13:20:32.0 Russ Parsons: I should have pointed out, I think it only takes about 5 minutes for the apples to fall apart.

2007-08-09 13:21:04.0 Russ Parsons: Gravensteins are a great old California variety. They were THE main apple up in Sonoma county, until most of the trees were pulled to make room for vineyards.

2007-08-09 13:21:10.0 roz collier: If I may ask another question: I am an avid baker. Any recommendations on authors in the field of baking. Roz Collier

2007-08-09 13:22:33.0 Russ Parsons: Oh sure, my pal Sherry Yard (the pastry chef at Spago) has a great book on baking techniques. And I really like Flo Braker's books. I'm not much of a baker, but the book I bake out of the most is the "Chez Panisse Dessert" book that Lindsey Shere put out years ago. Everything's really terrific.

2007-08-09 13:22:43.0 yumyum: yes, I heard about the Slow Food efforts to save the Gravensteins and had to try them!

2007-08-09 13:23:39.0 Cameron: I really like the Gravensteins for cooking. Like an interesting Granny Smith.

2007-08-09 13:23:49.0 Russ Parsons: I find that apples are really particular of where they're grown. In fact, I think the combination of variety and place is much more important than variety alone. I've had Pink Ladies that were grown in hot areas that were mealy and insipid. So taste and pay attention when you're shopping!

2007-08-09 13:24:27.0 Administrator2: What is your favorite salad dressing? Or favorites? Do you make your own?

2007-08-09 13:25:45.0 Russ Parsons: My favorite salad dressing is very simple--olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar and salt. And of course i make my own. What kind of question is that? When it comes to more complicated dressings, I am an absolute fool for a real Green Goddess--it's a mayonnaise with anchovies, tarragon and greenonions. I use that in a lot of composed salads.

2007-08-09 13:26:04.0 Administrator2: Sorry! Didn't mean to offend!

2007-08-09 13:26:23.0 Russ Parsons: hey, you know how touchy we cooks are!

2007-08-09 13:26:41.0 Administrator2: I do indeed. You're very difficult! :)

2007-08-09 13:27:54.0 Cameron: Don't worry; all chefs are like that. Definitely me included. :)

2007-08-09 13:28:19.0 Russ Parsons: yeah, but we're worth it, right?

2007-08-09 13:28:29.0 roz collier: Just a comment: I love pink ladies...found them a few years ago. Also, thanks for the tips on baking. I am going to "listen" for a while. Enjoy your column, very informative especially the one on knife sharpening.

2007-08-09 13:29:06.0 Russ Parsons: Oh, that's a long-term project of mine. I want to be able to hand-sharpen my knives really well. It's so much fun working with a really sharp knife.

2007-08-09 13:30:40.0 Administrator2: What's a good way to make a run-of-the-mill pizza into a fancy pizza? What sort of toppings do you have in your bag of tricks?

2007-08-09 13:31:47.0 Russ Parsons: I make pizza a lot, especially when the weather is cooler (something about a 500-degree oven ...). I buy the prepared dough from TJ and roll it out. I really like to top them with caramelized onions and goat cheese. Maybe some chopped black olives. That's a great combination.

2007-08-09 13:32:14.0 TYK: Summer cooking makes me think of BBQ. I'm happy doing most BBQ at home, but what about Korean BBQ? Any recommendations? (I've gone to Soot Bull Jeep in the past.)

2007-08-09 13:33:22.0 Russ Parsons: I love Korean BBQ, almost as much for the little panchan dishes as for the meat itself. Soot Bull Jeep is the best I've been too, but I keep hearing about all of these other places. Come to think of it, though, I don't remember ever having BAD Korean BBQ. Maybe I'm just easy.

2007-08-09 13:33:42.0 roz collier: In a recent column you review a distributor of spanish products such as chorizo, olive oil (here I go again), etc. I believe they are located in Harbor City. Can you give me the name again.

2007-08-09 13:35:12.0 Russ Parsons: Sure, that's one of my all-time favorite places in Southern California. It's called La Espanola. It's afamily-run business in Harbor City (roughly Vermont and Lomita). they cure their own sausages and hams and import lots of really high-quality Spanish ingredients. On Saturdays, the mom makes paella that they sell. On weekdays, they make a really good sandwich--baquette, jamon serrano, chorizo, manchego cheese and some piquilla peppers. $4.95. Unbelievable.

2007-08-09 13:35:35.0 TYK: To the moderator -- please pass along my thanks to Mr. Parsons.

2007-08-09 13:35:46.0 Administrator2: Hey TYK-- I'll let you do that yourself! :)

2007-08-09 13:35:58.0 Russ Parsons: Mr. Parsons appreciates your appreciation.

2007-08-09 13:36:03.0 Administrator2: Here's a reader-email question, Russ (and by the way, you can submit your questions for Russ in advance to

2007-08-09 13:36:10.0 Administrator2: What do you think of all those food blogs out there -- do you have any personal favorites?

2007-08-09 13:37:20.0 Russ Parsons: I think food blogs are great ... as long as people have something to say. unfortunately, that's not uniformly true. my favorite blogs are Michael Ruhlmann's (sorry don't have urls on these, but they should be easily googled); Wednesday Chef, Mariquita Farms, and Eater LA. What are some other good ones?

2007-08-09 13:40:06.0 yumyum: "I'm Mad and I Eat" and "Lunch In A Box" are great!

2007-08-09 13:41:08.0 Russ Parsons: i love that name! "I'm Mad and I Eat". I'll have to look that up. I also really like Chowhound and Egullet. They're not blogs but other types of internet thingies.

2007-08-09 13:41:53.0 Administrator2: Where do you get your olives? And what kinds do you favor-- kalamata, etc.?

2007-08-09 13:43:26.0 Russ Parsons: I like to try new kinds of olives. So I'll pick up an assortment at Bristol Farms or someplace. There's a good olive curer at some farmers markets--Ciara West. I know he goes to Torrance. His garlic picholines are just about perfect. for cooking, I'll usually use those canned kalamatas from Trader Joe's, which are very good and very cheap. I also like to finish my own olives--get olives that have been cured, thenflavor themwith lemon zest, garlic, rosemary, black pepper, etc.

2007-08-09 13:43:43.0 roz collier: Any recommendations on the types of knives a good chef should have? Basic set for example.

2007-08-09 13:46:03.0 Russ Parsons: First of all, I don't like sets of knives. They are usually a false economy--you'll end up stuck with knives you'll never use. I think every cook should have a really good chef's knife and a really good paring knife. After that, it depends on what you like. I like a lot, so I've got 2 full knife blocks at home (and more stored in a drawer with edge guards). Of course, I still use the chef's knife and the paring knife about 95% of the time.

2007-08-09 13:48:44.0 Administrator2: Any suggestions for cooking for picky little kids?

2007-08-09 13:49:05.0 Russ Parsons: I prefer to think about cooking picky little kids.

2007-08-09 13:49:50.0 Russ Parsons: seriously, i've found that if you don't make a big deal out of serving something, most kids will give it a try. Of course, my daughter has always been a good eater, so i'm certainly spoiled.

2007-08-09 13:51:08.0 Russ Parsons: Of course, there were those teenage years--for about 4 years in a row she turned vegetarian right before Thanksgiving. And then gave it up right after christmas.

2007-08-09 13:51:17.0 roz collier: Chef's knife would be the 8" and 10" I guess. Depending on personal use. Another question, I have Harold McGee's book, On Food and Cooking". Any other suggestions on books that emphasize cooking techniques?

2007-08-09 13:52:01.0 Russ Parsons: Well, I really like MY first book: "How to Read a French Fry." it uses food science to explain cooking techniques. I also like the books of James Petersen.

2007-08-09 13:53:01.0 Russ Parsons: And, of course, there are the Jacques Pepin books on technique that were published years ago. They're VERY French and a little old-fashioned, but there's still a lot of good demonstration in them.

2007-08-09 13:54:18.0 Russ Parsons: Right, chef's knives are usually from 8 to 10 inches long. Before you buy a good one (which will cost a bit of money), be sure to try it out. Depending on your hand size, you may find that you prefer a longer or shorter blade.

2007-08-09 13:54:23.0 roz collier: Well, now I know how to use my next Border's coupon...I am sure your book is in stock. This has been a delight. I will mourn the day I have to go back to teaching. I won't be able to have this much fun.

2007-08-09 13:54:56.0 Russ Parsons: Oh come on! you mean to tell me 30 teenagers won't be as much fun as this?

2007-08-09 13:55:19.0 roz collier: Not when your teaching them math.

2007-08-09 13:55:45.0 Russ Parsons: Then I think a little hookie is called for.

2007-08-09 13:56:43.0 roz collier: Hope to chat with you again...I might change my lunch hour. Thanks so much...I still have the rest of August.

2007-08-09 13:57:15.0 Russ Parsons: Well good luck! I'll be here, same day, same time, just waiting.

2007-08-09 13:59:30.0 Administrator2: I'm a big fan of small family-run places and you mentioned La Espanola earlier...any other, similar recommendations for local restaurants or markets?

2007-08-09 14:00:25.0 Russ Parsons: I think that's a question better answered by our other readers. Every neighborhood of Los Angeles seems to have a couple really great places. What are your favorites?

2007-08-09 14:01:44.0 Russ Parsons: Well, we'll leave that assignment for next week! Our hour is already up. Thanks for coming and I'll see you next Thursday at 1!

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